THE RELAPSE by Sir John Vanbrugh. Olivier Theatre.

Royal National Theatre

by Sir John Vanbrugh

Olivier Theatre In rep to 17 November 2001
Runs 3hrs 25mins One interval
TICKETS 020 7452 3000
Review Timothy Ramsden 17 August

Restoration revival often sparks but rarely takes fire.

This is high quality work. Sue Blane’s set recreates a Restoration stage for Vanbrugh’s 1696 comedy. Directors Trevor Nunn and Stephen Rayne use this early on to create a free actor/audience relationship that sticks after the fake stage audience have departed to their various characters.

It allows Alex Jennings’ Lord Foppington (once merely Sir Novelty Fashion, now ennobled for a £1,000 bribe) to talk to us in a remarkable comic performance that throws in overtones of Frankie Howard or Kenneth Williams with raised eyebrow shock and snorting disgust, while staying true to Vanbrugh’s character.There’s a myriad of performances to enjoy, like Maxine Peake’s country girl Hoyden with her lusty enthusiasm for the first city man she meets. Janine Duvitski as her lusty governess could be an apprentice Thora Hird. Edward Petherbridge’s matchmaking Coupler pops up round town with his briefcase and an eye, plus a hand and lips, for the boys he’s marrying off.

The quality reaches down; Paul Benzing has a splendid moment as a shoemaker whose craftsman’s pride won’t be outfaced by an ignorant customer, however aristocratic.

Imogen Stubbs as Amanda, who won’t stray though her husband does, and Claire Price as her cousin Berinthia who’ll stray where her heart takes her, give fine performances in the play’s moral zone.

There’s an army of characters. Literally so in the weapon-toting rustics who guard the fortress home of Brian Blessed’s Sir Tunbelly Clumsy (Hoyden’s father) from London offcomers.

But still, it’s a very good production, not a great one. It lacks surprise. Years ago the National gave us another Restoration comedy, Congreve’s Double Dealer, where actors like Robert Stephens and Michael Bryant handled the lines in unexpected yet entirely natural ways, opening new dimensions to the characters. And that’s what’s missing here.

2001-08-21 11:22:19

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