Writer: Edward Ravenscroft
Version by: Terry Johnson
Director: Kim Durham
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Edward Ravenscroft’s 17th Century romp bursts back to life courtesy of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, performed by members of its International Acting MA. Beginning in 17th Century London, three Aldermen – Wiseacres (Ahmad Kamal), Doodle (Laurence Varda), and Dashwell (Callum Alexander) are hotly debating what “type” of a wife it’s better to have: witty (like Doodle’s), stupid (like Wiseacre’s bride-to-be), or devoted to the church (like Dashwell’s). That’s your lot. It was the 16 hundreds after all.
There follows an increasingly complicated series of farcical encounters, misunderstandings and failed romantic trysts, as the Aldermen remain oblivious to the fact that their beautiful young wives are actually both pursuing, and being pursued by three rather dashing young men, hopping in and out of each other’s beds and windows in an effort to escape exposure.
Putting the subject matter of women as little more than possessions to rest in the time period in which it belongs, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Interestingly, the female characters are not the victims. Yes, their husbands think of them as little more than trophies, and their potential lovers see them as objects of their desires, but they know their own minds, they’re in control of their own urges – they embrace them. Even Peggy (Kara Chamberlain), a simple girl from the country who’s been kept in isolation by her husband-to-be so that she can’t learn anything about the world, discovers that not only can sex be fun, but that she can use it to control the men around her. As Engine (a raucous Tori Walker in full-on Nancy mode) points out: times and expressions may change, but people will always do what they’ve always done.
For a play of this length – nearly 3 hours including an interval – the time flies. As an ensemble, the cast are brimming with energy and comedic timing, embracing the language and material with such infectiousness that it kind of makes you wish you were up there with them. Matt Dawson is particularly impressive, commanding much of the first act with a twinkle in his eye and a naughty spring in his step, but he’s by no means on his own. Sarah Sawyer’s facial expressions alone are enough to induce hilarity as she totters to and fro, flustered and woozy at the threat of being found out, while Vanessa Labrie imbues Arabella with lustful mischief. Meanwhile, Varda delivers a nicely understated performance, switching from wry, knowing husband to nightgown-wearing, shotgun-wielding dupe; and Marc-Antoine Kelertas flourishes once he’s promoted to a main player in the second act.
Stylistically, it’s a refreshingly traditional affair with Sue Condie’s detailed period costumes and clever set design – the magical changing closet being the highlight – bolstering the energy.
The odd wavering British accent aside (understandable with so many nationalities on stage together), this is an unapologetically rude, full on, madcap farce, and a genuine delight.
Runs until Monday 22nd June 2015 | Photo: Adrian Barclay