THE SURPRISE OF LOVE
by Pierre de Marivaux translated by Mike Alfreds.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET In rep to22 December 2011.
11am 3, 10 Dec.
2.30pm 1, 14, 21, 22 Dec.
7.45pm 1, 2, 7, 9, 13, 16, 21 Dec.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 01225 448844
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 November.
Elegant philosophical comedy of love with some lively performances.
Biggest surprise here is this autumn season at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, an offshoot of the Theatre Royal. Director Laurence Boswell has been brought in to plan home-produced seasons (there’ll be runs of three modern American plays in the spring), beginning with British premieres, in new translations, of European plays roughly spanning the 17th and 18th centuries.
Trimmed to fit studio scale and budgets, the style doesn’t undermine place or period, while emphasising the human emotions flowing through each play – something, with Marivaux, that’s a help for British audiences.
His plays dissect the complexities of love and the balance between inner emotions and the outward expectations of society. So, Boswell’s performers distinguish between the servants’ easygoing manner and the sophistications of upper-class relationships
Marivaux’s fellow 18th-century playwright Beaumarchais might have put him right about such matters of class. Here though, aristocratic love is philosophical, and a play like Surprise is not only an example of the frank French interest in the analysis of desire, but an antecedent of the country’s philosophical disquisitions in 20th-century plays and novels.
Yet, if love is a serious matter for consideration, rather than a pulsing through the arteries, Boswell keeps stuffiness at bay, Laura Rees giving her Marquise an alert rapidity of expression and speech.
And, in this play alone during the season, Boswell takes the interval early. It makes for a brief comic first part, apparently matched more seriously by the developing relation between Marquise and Chevalier afterwards, ending as they walk off together into the garden.
But something feels unresolved, until a final scene gives a sense of weight, combing through the fine details of feeling. Ti Green’s set, enhanced by a fireplace and huge French window, lit autumnally by Ben Ormerod and Richard Howell, provides a suitably elegant formality into which Rees, Frances McNamee as her servant and Peter Bramhill as Lisette’s innocent lover particularly breathe life.
Somewhat clumsy comedy comes with the portentous Hortensius, a book-laden scholar whose sense is at odds with his learning, and Milo Twomey is overly self-conscious as the Chevalier. Still, this remains quite a nice Surprise.
The Marquise: Laura Rees.
Lisette: Frances McNamee.
Lubin: Peter Bramhill.
Hortensius: Christopher Hunter.
He Chevalier: Milo Twomey.
The Count: Adam Jackson-Smith.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Ti Green.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod, Richard Howell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Movement: Jonathan Howell.