Writer: Delarivier Manley
Director: Kate Handford
Reviewer: Jon Wainwright
The entire cast lines up to introduce the characters in this Restoration tragedy, a useful opening for an unfamiliar play. And while some details are hard to follow, it’s always clear who is wanting to do what to whom, and who would rather not be on the receiving end of such amorous attention. The princess Hermias, in a slinky floor-length gown, its colour matching her bright red lipstick and unabashed passion, steps forward to inform us that she is “young and beautiful” before pausing to let the audience assess for ourselves the truth of this proposition. She is not the retiring type, so when she suggests that husbands are not always the object of a wife’s desire, and when a handsome prince returns from battle garlanded a hero, we guess that the mischief of the title is the kind carried out in the bedroom.
The actors are all fluent script readers, which allows them to shape their characters and give this staged reading more of the flavour of a full production. The comic tone is taken from the modern, playful sense of “mischief” and yet the darker, original meaning is all too obvious by the end, as Hermias anticipates an eternity of damnation: “Fiends will hug my royal mischief.” Even without fake blood, we realise this is one relationship that is beyond mediation as she exclaims, with a magnificent, theatrical flourish: “I dash you with my gore.”
Delarivier Manley writes about human desires found in all classes and ages, the difference here being the extra high stakes. Those who feel wronged, if they are men, have access to whole armies and the power of autocratic government to punish the wrongdoers. And those punishments are not just theoretical, reserved for an afterlife in hell, or applied solely to women. Having a human-sized cannon ramps up the consequences for the men, too (a detail which leads to an extraordinary description of one character gathering the still-hot “fatal pieces” of her dead husband from where they lie scattered).
Manley’s understanding of her characters as belonging to a species that is only socially, not actually, monogamous is impressive. Both men and women are active in pursuit of their desires, and these are not the sort that can be satisfied by appeal to “platonic nonsense.” We are left in no doubt that Hermias, for example, is capable of “mighty ecstasy” (although she claims that “no mortal sense can guess the divine impress” her lover has made). Modern couples might not be married, nor talk in the same terms, but we can all recognise the main theme that is the tension of “duty versus love in marriage.”
The play is set in various rooms in a castle, where lights are said to be “fixed in crystal candlesticks.” This production’s budget doesn’t run to that many props, but the Rose’s large and otherwise pitch dark archeological space is filled with specks of light, which creates an atmosphere that suits this play very well.
Reviewed on 15 September 2016 | Image: