Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
  Opened 10 October, 2003

A few years ago, reviewing The Way Of The World at the Orange Tree, I wrote that "Restoration comedy almost invariably demands a blatantly artificial playing style, whilst staging in the round as here, with no spectator more than two rows away from the stage, supplies an intimacy which might as well have been designed to explode such artifice." On the contrary, it is my pronouncement that has been exploded by Auriol Smith's production, at the same venue, of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Simplicity.

Montagu's 1735 adaptation of Marivaux's The Game Of Love And Chance is brief (less than two hours, even with an interval) and slight, but like a glass-fronted clock, part of the aesthetic delight is in watching the intricate mechanisms tick away together to achieve the desired result. The title she gives her version is both ironic, given the complex of disguises and stratagems acted out before us, and literal, since we know that love will inevitably triumph. (Simplicity is also the name of a solo card game, so the spectator here can watch the dramatic cards fall in such a way that the game works itself out.)

Sir John Hearty suggests that his daughter Belinda and her maid Lucy change places, so that the disguised Belinda may better observe on first meeting the conduct and character of the man proposed for her husband. What Sir John knows, as they do not, is that the suitor Gaymore and his man William have likewise switched, for precisely the same reason. Each of the young gentlefolk loathes their assigned "noble" spouse and falls for their counterpart "servant", wondering how to confess the truth and whether such a match could ever work. Of course, they do and it does.

Sir John oversees matters playfully in the person of Terrence Hardiman, his remarkable eyes in twinkling rather than piercing mode. Gyuri Sárossy as Gaymore tends to favour plausible emotional naturalism a little more than the artifice of the genre, but Octavia Walters as Belinda gets the balance bang on. Tom McKay is a little heavy-handed with William's patrician affectations, but Rebekah Staton, making her professional stage début as Lucy, has a natural comic vivacity that steals every scene she's in. Smith's production as a whole thoroughly merits the phrase "small but beautifully formed".

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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