by William Congreve.

Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 5 May 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 25 April, 3 May 2.15pm
Audio-described 27 April, 28 April 2.15pm.
BSL Signed 25 April 7.30pm.
Captioned 5 May 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.

TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 April.

Celebration of a stage and portrait of a glittering society.
Chichester’s fiftieth main-stage season opens aptly with a golden revival of a major English classic – William Congreve’s final play, last (arguably) and greatest of Restoration Comedies. Rachel Kavanaugh’s superbly-cast production is acted on a brilliant set of cold-hearted affluence, designer Paul Farnsworth providing less locations, locations than an overall environment of tarnished gold, reflecting surfaces part clouded-over.

Here, the London beau monde – including it’s belles and would-be such – connive, gossip, manipulate or are manipulated. Starting with upmarket Stags and Hens scenes, Congreve’s plot is one putting love in a maze of intricate actions, some shown, others reported, that needs a route-map to follow.

But even on a first viewing, there’s plenty of scenes to enjoy along the rather mysterious way. Characters lack neither funds nor the will to spend them on glorious clothing, and Jo Stone-Fewings’ Mirabell has certainly found the way to show his apparel to advantage, leaning forward across a couch or coffee-house table.

And Claire Price’s Millamant, toast of the town, is kitted-out in elaborate, colourful glory. These are a pair to ride above the general level of witless affluence around them. It’s not only their ability to recognise poetry (if only of minor Cavalier poet Sir John Suckling) but to show a live, individual wit and mutual appreciation in the one scene where individuality emerges from characters, namely their agreement of marriage conditions before committing themselves.

Richard Clothier provides Mirabell’s apparent friend Fainall with an imposing anger, while Giles Taylor and Christopher Logan are sparkily foolish as two ‘wits’ whose world consists largely of slagging each other off while following Milliamant.

Rebecca Jonson and Hermione Gulliford are as stylish and strong as Fainall’s women. But the other outstanding performances come from Jeremy Swift as the potato-faced Sir Wilful, hopeless and ultimately sympathetic in his social inadequacy, finely-detailed in that usual actor’s graveyard, the drunk scene, which here charts the state of inebriation beautifully. And Penelope Keith, acting with precision and points of energy amid a sense of relaxed authority, and showing in Lady Wishfort that English comedy had a Mrs Malaprop waiting to happen.

Fainall: Richard Clothier.
Mirabell: Jo Stone-Fewings.
Betty/Mincing: Lotte Rice.
Footman/Coachman: Joshua Miles.
Messenger/Footman: Salvatore D’Aquilla.
Witwoud: Giles Taylor.
Petulant: Christopher Logan.
Mrs Fainall: Rebecca Johnson.
Mrs Marwood: Hermione Gulliford.
Mrs Millamant: Claire Price.
Waitwell: Robin Pearce.
Foible: Jenna Augen.
Lady Wishfort: Penelope Keith.
Peg: Victoria Lennox.
Sir Wilfull Witwoud: Jeremy Swift.
Violinist: Jonathan Truscott.

Director: Rachel Kavanaugh.
Designer: Paul Farnsworth.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Matt McKenzie.
Composer: Terry Davies.
Movement: Stuart Hopps.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Assistant director: Kim Pearce.

2012-04-22 19:51:35

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