by James Shirley.

White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 21 August 2011.
Tue-Say 7.30pm Sun 5.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 August.

Written in 1637, set around 1966 and a pleasure in 2011.
If James Shirley’s plays were known at all, The Lady of Pleasure would be among the best-known. That they are not results from the asphyxiated repertory of England’s major subsidised theatre companies (though, years ago, the RSC revived another Shirley comedy Hyde Park). He was a key dramatist of the post-Jacobean generation. When the Roundheads closed down the theatre in 1642 it was the prolific Shirley and his like they were shutting-up.

So it’s left to the enterprising White Bear and Instant Classics theatre company to show the missing link between the earlier generation and the Restoration playwrights to come. In many ways the links forward are most apparent; this was theatre no longer mirroring society, but reflecting the follies of Society.

On the surface, there’s more than enough to make a Puritan tut. Sir Thomas Bornwell has relocated from the country to London to indulge his wife’s expensive tastes. Aretina Bornwell, the Lady of Pleasure, indulges in tactfully-suggested sexual dalliance and is a conspicuous consumer, around whose flame fashion-flies hover. Meanwhile, young widow Celestina keeps predatory suitors at bay.

Then Sir Thomas seems to join in Aretina’s extravagance, pretending an affair with Celestina. Eventually Aretina becomes fearful, through her own deceptions and her husband’s declaration their money will only last another month.

Yet the moral point’s unmissable in David Cottis’s lively production, itself relocated to mid-sixties London – a time when style was assuming a new youthful consciousness (though marriage was hardly retaining the focus it has here).

The sixties music rings true – especially for the final dancing resolution – and while there are rough fringes to some performances, all make their point. There’s strong work from Jonathan Rigby’s jacketed Bornwell, seeming calmly reasonable as he seeks to control things, plus Elizabeth Donnelly as the wisely virtuous young Celestina. And, especially, Sally Mortemore’s Aretina, assured in her pleasures, then showing near-panic in her whispered words and worried expression as she loses the sense of control.

Add such invention as her nephew Frederick transforming from earnest student to Backing-Britain social gadfly and it’s clear Shirley’s Lady is safe in Cottis’s hands.

Steward/Marianna: Meriel Rosenkranz.
Aretina Bornwell: Sally Mortemore.
Sir Thomas Bornwell: Jonathan Rigby.
Madam Decoy: Evadne Ricketts.
John Littleworth: Matt Butcher.
Alexander Kickshaw: Simon Alexander.
Celestina: Elizabeth Donnelly.
Haircut: Chris Paddon.
Frederick: Tom Hurley.
Sir William Sentlove: Matt Tully.
Lord: Jackson Wright.

Director: David Cottis.
Designer: Sarah Cogan.
Lighting: Hugh Allison.
Sound: Helen Skiera.

2011-08-18 19:55:07

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