Warehouse Theatre, Croydon
Opened 29 September, 2006

It is surprising that the English-speaking world première of Eugène Scribe's 1828 comedy Le mariage d'argent takes place only now. Surely someone must have spotted its potential as a Zeitgeist-capturing piece during the acquisitive heyday of the 1980s. Or possibly not, since it may have been hidden amid the works of the most prolific playwright in history: Scribe had seen more than 400 of his plays, vaudevilles and opera libretti produced by his death in 1861. Moreover, Golden Opportunities (as the play is entitled in Anthony Curtis's eminently playable English version) does not exactly toe the "greed is good" party line. What is particularly impressive, and consistently fascinating, is its blend of the standard confections of romantic comedy – rivalries, confusions, misunderstandings and concealments – with an utterly unsentimental acknowledgement that wealth can be at least as much of a driving force, and at least as fulfilling a goal, as love.

The financially embarrassed Poligni is torn between his long-lost sweetheart, the now widowed and not by any means comfortably off Madame de Brienne, and his stockbroker friend Dorbeval's vacuous but heavily dowried ward. The third in the male trio, rising painter Olivier, is also in love with Mme de Brienne; meanwhile, Dorbeval's wife has been flirting more than is good for her, and when a too-fervent letter for her arrives and Mme de Brienne pretends that she was its addressee... well, unsurprisingly, entanglements ensue. Yet throughout, Poligni's sought-for half-million is as much an imperative as any calling of the heart. Roger Ringrose's Dorbeval may be much dimmer at people than at money, but neither trait is culpable: his financial acuity is at the service of people he cares for. Max Digby and Fliss Walton as Poligni and Mme de Brienne have to ride more switchbacks of fortune and emotion than can comfortably be handled, and Sioned Jones as Mme Dorbeval has wonderfully expressive eyes. There is a happy ending of a sort, but the predictable deus ex machina does not by any means produce the expected resolution. Still, as the saying goes, money doesn't buy happiness, but it enables you to be unhappy in comfort.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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