The City Madam: RSC in rep to 4 Oct

THE CITY MADAM: Philip Massinger
RSC: The Swan, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Runs: 2h 50m, one interval, in rep till 4 October
Review: Rod Dungate, Wed 11 May 2011

Disappointing but it has its moments

The themes in Massinger’s 1632 comedy are clear enough – class difference and advantage, power of money, social change. What remains murky is the stance Massinger takes on these – on the evidence of the play I’m being kind here. There’s a feeling at times, too, that Massinger’s cobbled the play together – particularly in the second half. So, despite some valiant and energetic efforts from the acting company, the production isn’t able to sort out an air of confusion around the play, which perhaps stems from director, Dominic Hill’s confusion, which in turn exacerbates what looks like Massinger’s own confusion.

The story in as small a nut-shell as I can manage . . . Mega rich merchant, Sir John Frugal (lowly background) has a wife and two daughters who have upper-class aspirations. He has a bad brother, Luke, whom he rescues from prison, but whom the women in the family treat as a lower echelon servant. The two daughters make unreasonable demands of their two suitors (who fight anyway) so eventually he, Sir John, removes himself from the scene, leaving all his dosh to his bad brother to see if he can redeem himself. However, after being sympathetic to people’s plights, Luke turns into a terribly money-grabbing tyrant until Sir John returns. Luke is banished, wife and daughters see the error of their ways and become dutiful wives and daughters, meek and mild. Proper society is established, as Sir John says, keeping a proper distance between Court and City.

A play is only as good as its ability to speak to us, not in a historical context (which may be interesting) but now. So, while the money-grabbing nature of society is apt for today, the notion that the middle classes should know their places is not. And worse, it is the women in this play’s world who Massinger paints as the most foolish for wanting to ape the aristos, who suffer the worst humiliations, and who are brought to their senses (ie doing as their husbands tell them) to achieve the happy, comedic, ending.

Hill, in looking for comic moments, has taken his eye off the ball, and failed to see how the different acting styles carry meanings too. His production fails to add up and exists as a series of set pieces. And what’s the point of including Massinger’s masque (hard enough to take in the first place) when you can’t hear a word that’s being said – or sung?

Shame; because Sara Crowe’s performance as Lady Frugal is a knockout and a half! She has an innate sense of comedy which keeps the first half alive – a sense of comedy which, had Hill given her, her head in the second half, may have kept the play in kilter. Nicholas Day gives a gorgeous performance as Lord Lacy, slightly bemused and always nearly in control. Jo Stone-Fewings negotiates the twists and turns with comedic skills and passion.

Goldwire: Nathaniel Martello-White
Tradewell: Chike Okonkwo
Lady Frugal: Sara Crowe
Anne: Lucy Briggs-Owen
Mary: Matti Houghton
Stargaze: Simeon Moore
Millicent: Liz Crowther
Luke Frugal: Jo Stone-Fewings
Holdfast: Christopher Ettridge
Sir Maurice: Alex Hassell
Page: Michael Grady-Hall
Mr Plenty: Felix Hayes
Sir John Frugal: Christopher Godwin
Hoist: Andrew Melville
Penury: Timothy Speyer
Fortune: Kammy Darweish
Lord Lacy: Nicholas Day
Secret: Liz Crowther
Shave ‘Em: Pippa Nixon
Ramble: Oliver Rix
Scuffle: Michael Grady-Hall
Ding ‘Em: Christopher Chilton
Getall: Harry Myers
Sheriff: Christopher Ettridge
Marshall: Simeon Moore
Sergeants: Michael Grady-Hall, Oliver Rix, Christopher Chilton
Old Goldwire: Andrew Melville
Old Tradewell: Kammy Darweish

Directed by: Dominic Hill
Designed by: Tom Piper
Lighting Designed by: Tim Mitchell
Music and Sound by: Dan Jones
Movement by: Struan Leslie
Fights by: Renny Krupinski
Director of Puppetry: Rachael Canning
Magic Advisor: Chris Harding
Company Text and Voice Work: Lyn Darnley
Additional Company Movement by: Kate Sagovsky
Assistant Director: Drew Mulligan

2011-05-12 14:13:06

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