Writer: Elizabeth Inchbald
Director: Colin Blumenau
Reviewer: Flip Miller
Slap bang in the middle of the Theatre Royal’s very popular run of Mansfield Park the actors from the show perform a script in hand performance of Lovers’ Vows. This play is best known as the play within Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.
The play is a blend of romantic comedy, tragedy and melodrama. It tells of a woman, Agatha Friburg, played by Leonie Spilsbury, destitute through ill health begging on the road when a good Samaritan takes pity on her. She quickly recognises this gentleman as her son Frederick, played by the delectable Samuel Collings, who has been away for five years in the army. He has come back to get his register of birth from the local church as he needs this to leave the army and get gainful employment elsewhere.
This forces poor Agatha to admit that he is the illegitimate son of the local land lord recently returned from France. The Baron had promised to marry her. However he left her “with child” to marry a woman of means and moved to France.
As Agatha is so weak Frederick leaves her in the care of a cottager and his wife. So that he can go and beg for some money to help her. While out begging Frederick comes across the Baron and his hunting party. The Baron gives Frederick some money but Frederick pulls a sword on him and the Baron has him instantly thrown in the tower of his castle.
Also during the play the Baron’s daughter, Amelia, played by Kristin Atherton, is being pursued by the camp Count Cassel, played so expertly by Geoff Arnold. However young Amelia has set her cap on Anhalt the vicar, played by Pete Ashmore.
Quite early on in the play you are well aware of the outcome of the play. It is so blindingly obvious it hits you like a freight train.
The Baron played by Richard Heap has a stage presence that is commanding and at times over shadows some of the other actors. His voice and projection is so melodious. You can hear his voice at every point through out the theatre.
A script in hand performance could so easily become just a few people on stage reading. However all the actors bring their characters to life and really act their parts. The interludes between Ashmore and Atherton are particularly touching both on a dramatic and comedic level. Atherton particularly has a wicked sense of comic timing and at times only has to look in a certain way to get the audience laughing.
It is very evident that this cast of actors are a well established team that work well together. They have gelled well as a troupe and are a very tight unit.
There was some debate at the post show discussion as to whether the show could be seen as a stand alone play. In its day it was certainly was seen as a play in its own right. However, after Jane Austen refers to it in Mansfield Park it will now always be synonymous with her work.
You can appreciate Lovers’ Vows as a stand alone play. However, to gain some dimension to the characters, a visit to see Mansfield Park will help you put both plays into context.