arts

RIOTOUS FARCE AT THE ORANGE TREE (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

GREAT plays stand the test of time, even if they need an occasional lick of paint to freshen them up.

Such is the case with Le Jeu De L’Amour Et Du Hassard, a play written by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux and first performed in 1730.

Marivaux, a Frenchman from good Parisian stock, was only a part-time writer but he wrote more than 35 plays during his lifetime. His influence was such that it spurred the term ‘marivaudage’ – a not particularly flattering term used to describe verbose or affected writing.

Le Jeu is probably Marivaux’s most famous play but it was given a wonderful makeover in the early 1980s by the late John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). This culminated in The Lottery of Love, a script which has now been used to marvellous effect in the latest offering from the Orange Tree Theatre in London’s wealthy Richmond.

Directed with aplomb by Paul Miller, the play is set in a drawing room (birds twittering away in the background) in the Regency period (early 1800’s). All perfect for the Orange Tree Theatre and its quadrangle stage. Love and class frame the play.

Mr Morgan, portly and refined, is keen to marry off his attractive daughter Sylvia and has a suitor in mind (Richard, son of a friend) who will be visiting them later that same day. But Sylvia is not so eager declaring to her maid (Louisa) that she is perfectly content as she is and has no interest in Richard – however true the claim that he is attractive, intelligent and a trustworthy gentleman.

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Sylvia, somewhat reluctantly, agrees to meet with Richard but only if she and Louisa reverse roles, enabling Sylvia to observe Richard from a detached distance. Mr Morgan, a doting father, agrees – much to Louisa’s delight who cannot wait to assume a position above her normal station.

Just before the women scuttle off to change clothes and roles, Sylvia’s dashing brother Martin arrives, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and full of mischief. Mr Morgan then opens a letter from Richard’s father which  states that Richard has the same idea as Sylvia – namely to dress up for the meeting as his manservant John Brass so that he can learn more about Sylvia’s character. John Brass, of course, is to present himself as Richard.

What follows is 80 minutes of enjoyable – and occasional rip-roaring – farce as aproned and servile Sylvia (now playing Louisa) is wooed by a smitten and ridiculously well-spoken John Brass (Richard).

Richard (John Brass) is dressed like a peacock with green laces in his shoes, a flower in his hair and gauche rings adorning most of his fingers (hats off to costume supervisor Holly Rose Henshaw).

More clown than supposed master, he instantly falls in love with Sylvia (Louisa) who makes the jump from ‘common’ to ‘posh’ quite seamlessly.

On one level love transcends the classes. On another, those of equal social standing are drawn together like twins or magnets.

Some of the language may jar but the acting is wonderful (great casting by Rebecca Murphy). Dorethea Myer-Bennett is quite exceptional  as the real Sylvia (Silvia in the original Marivaux play). Cynical one moment, demure the next. Her facial expressions are as enjoyable to observe as her comic timing is to listen to.

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Ashley Zhangazha portrays Richard (Dorante) as the earnest man he obviously  is while Tam Williams (Martin, Mario) makes a perfect sibling – tall, upright, handsome, beautifully spoken and seldom missing a chance to have a little fun at Sylvia’s expense. Upper class through and through.

Claire Lams (Louisa, Lisette) is more than effective in portraying Louisa’s transition from servant to supposed Lady of the house. One moment, a slightly cheeky and cheery servant. The next, a lady with a voice to match – and quite happy to be dismissive of her ‘maid’. Oh, how she enjoys chiding the real Sylvia. A duplicitous character made for Ms Lams.

As for Keir Charles, he plays Brass like a Regency version of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Bombastic, conceited, foul mouthed, a man who finds falling in love quite easy and despite Richard’s goading is never quite able to shake off his lack of class. One critic describes him as a Regency version of Russell Brand. One Russell Brand is surely enough for this world.

It is all way over the top but Mr Charles provides the play with much of its humour. A fool dressed as a clown, often using the audience as a springboard for his oafishness (something Ms Myer-Bennett also does earlier in the play while questioning the intentions of most men).  Note to people booking tickets in the next few days – do not sit in the front row unless you want to be the butt of some good old fashioned humour.

Pip Donaghy completes the cast as a loving father, Mr Morgan (Orgon).

The play, which runs until May 13,  is a triumph for the Orange Tree Theatre. Yes, it is still dated despite Fowles’  best efforts. Yes, it is slap stick romance. But it’s great fun – as well as being a great play (mind you,  great with a small g, not great with a capital g).

Tickets are available for all bar one of the remaining performances. Grab one if you can. Pure escapism – and don’t we all need a little of that at the moment.

For more info: www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

The Lottery of Love – 4/5

Martin: Tam Williams

Louisa: Claire Lams

Richard: Ashley Zhangazha

Sylvia: Dorothea Myer-Bennett

Brass: Keir Charles

Mr Morgan: Pip Donaghy

Director: Paul Miller

Designer: Simon Daw

Costume Supervisor: Holly Rose Henshaw

Casting: Rebecca Murphy

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Also read: Family Rupture in Healing Belfast (Theatre Review)

Late Company – The After Shocks of School Bullying (Theatre Review)

James recommends: The Shallows (Film Review)

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