LOVE FOR LOVE
The Swan theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th November, 2015
The plot of William Congreve’s comedy of 1694 is almost incidental in this exuberant, vibrant new production, directed by Selina Cadell. What takes precedence is the presentation. The show revels in its own theatricality from start to finish. What, in Brecht, would work to alienate us, here engages us. The very artificiality of it all infuses the ‘world’ of the play. It’s a right old giggle.
Tom Turner’s Valentine, the romantic lead, is languidly camp, until his ‘mad’ scenes when he is manically camp. There is an assurance here in the comic playing. In fact, the entire company play their parts like virtuoso performers: the timing, the reactions, the archness of it all, operate like well-oiled clockwork animating an intricate machine whose sole purpose is to delight. Carl Prekopp makes an energetic Jeremy, Valentine’s servant, Robert Cavanah is an urbane Scandal, while Jonathan Broadbent’s Tattle is a flamboyant, pouting fop. There is no one in this play who is not funny. Nicholas Le Prevost as Valentine’s unreasonable father Sir Sampson is marvellously embittered. Daniel Easton’s bumptious Ben, Valentine’s sailor brother, is a hoot (There is some spirited choreography of a sailors’ hornpipe by Stuart Sweeting.) As Congreve’s play is influenced by stock character types, so Selina Cadell’s production is informed by the workings and business of the Commedia dell’Arte.
As Angelica, Justine Mitchell displays some excellent melodramatic posturing, which she punctures in her asides – the audience, especially the front rows, is very much included, as prop holders, costume minders, and butts of pointed remarks. Jenny Rainsford’s Miss Prue is broadly played, in contrast to Angelica’s cultured poise. Congreve provides a wealth of funny roles for women. Hermione Gulliford plays the scheming Mrs Foresight to the hilt. It is one of those pieces where we deplore the characters while revelling in their transgressions and admiring the hell out of the actors.
An underused Michael Fenton-Stevens bears the brunt of the satirical jibes against the legal profession, while Michael Thomas’s superstitious Foresight represents an attack on those credulous enough to give credence to astrology. We can still recognise these targets from society today.
Rosalind Ebbutt’s vivacious costumes and Tom Piper’s toy theatre set convey the period and add considerably to the fun. There is a consort of musicians in a corner, underscoring the silliness, and sound effects and props contribute running jokes. It all makes for relentless fun – so much so that by the end, when all the plots have been resolved, we are not touched by the denouement. There is so much laughter here there is no room for sentiment and that is perhaps this production’s only shortcoming, yet there is a moment of stunning beauty thanks to the countertenor singing of Jonathan Christie.
I have a lot of love for Love For Love.
Legend! Nicholas Le Prevost as Sir Sampson Legend (Photo: Ellie Kurtz)
1 Comment | tags: Carl Prekopp, Hermione Gulliford, Jenny Rainsford, Jonathan Broadbent, Jonathan Christie, Justine Mitchell, Love For Love, Michael Fenton-Stevens, Michael Thomas, Nicholas Le Prevost, review, Robert Cavanah, Rosalind Ebbutt, Selina Cadell, Stratford upon Avon, The RSC, The Swan Theatre, Tom Piper, Tom Turner, William Congreve | posted in Theatre Review
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 21st August, 2012
Arthur Wing Pinero’s classic comedy from 1887 is given a new lease of life by director Christopher Luscombe in this revival soon to transfer to London’s West End.
The old theatrical conventions of speaking asides to the audience and punctuating scenes with tableaux here seem incredibly refreshing. This is a production that celebrates artifice and contrivance within its plot and in its performance. The actors play it larger-than-life in order to accommodate these conventions but there is no hint of spoof and no knowing winks. As far as they can, they play the material straight, albeit in a heightened and exaggerated manner.
It is a breath of fresh air.
Comedy traditionally has two types of character: those who seek to enjoy life’s pleasures and those who seek to thwart them. And so we have The Very Reverend Augustin Jedd (Nicholas Le Prevost) ruling the roost in his deanery, anti-gambling and anti-extravagance. Unfortunately for this old stick-in-the-mud, his two daughters are spendthrifts and pleasure-seekers. Together with their army beaux, they plot to sneak out after dark to a fancy dress ball. Meanwhile, Jedd’s widowed sister descends on the house. She is far from the withered fragment they are expecting. Instead she is rather mannish and full of fun – Patricia Hodge in a scene-stealing performance. Such fun! She speaks in horse metaphors and racing slang. In fact, Pinero’s script has much to delight in its use of language. The plot may be earthier than anything Wilde ever concocted but the élan and esprit of the dialogue is definitely from the same stable.
A pub fire and a bout of horse doping leads to the incarceration of the hapless Dean – adhering to the tradition that the killjoy and fuddy-duddy must be made to suffer and look ridiculous – but somehow everything comes good before the final curtain. Nicholas Le Prevost is an imperious yet likeable old duffer as the Dean; Patricia Hodge is note perfect as the horsey Georgiana. The entire ensemble is delectable. Daughters Salome (Florence Andrews) and Sheba (Jennifer Rhodes) witter and sing and comport themselves in a hilariously melodramatic fashion. Their boyfriends and co-conspirators are dashing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) and talented (Charles De Bromhead, treating us to some exquisite violin playing). John Arthur as Blore the butler is a delight to behold, pipped at the post for my pick of the running by Rachel Lumberg in an excruciatingly funny portrayal of Hannah, the constable’s wife.
The attention to detail is meticulous. There is no reaction, no bit of business that has been overlooked, and yet the piece ticks along merrily and never feels laboured or overwrought. It is like discovering a recipe for soufflé in an ancient cookbook – one that takes a particular skill to pull off successfully, proving, lest we forget, that sometimes the old ways are still the best.
Leave a comment | tags: Arthur Wing Pinero, Charles De Bromhead, Christopher Luscombe, Dandy Dick, Florence Andrews, Jennifer Rhodes, John Arthur, New Alexandra Theatre, Nicholas Le Prevost, Patricia Hodge, Peter Sandys-Clarke, Rachel Lumberg, review | posted in Theatre Review