Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe), London SE1
Opened 12 January, 1993

Many will sniff at this show, feeling that Marivaux's subtlety and poise have been coarsened into a piece of sub-Noël Coward affectation. Such hostility, though, is nothing new to Neil Bartlett and his company Gloria, dedicated as they are to crossing the bounds both of genre and artifice. In this case the pose of the action, the visible activity in the onstage "wings" and frequent references in Bartlett's confident script to theatricality and playing are aimed at creating an air corresponding to that of the original audience, whose familiarity with Marivaux's actors and character types made for a relationship of complicity with the theatrical entertainment.

And, lo and behold, there's Marcello Magni of Théâtre de Complicité as a vulgar, acrobatic chauffeur who's changed places with his master so that the latter may observe his possible wife-to-be incognito – but little do they know that she and her maid have done likewise, so that the nobs end up falling for each other below stairs while the servants give a nod to current preoccupations by engaging in a toe-job by the piahno. Maggie Steed is all Thatcherian drawl and clippedah final syllablesah (Mark E. Smith, anyone?) as protagonist Silvia: too old to be ingenuous, but marvellously carrying off both the initial reluctance to be wooed by anyone (she enjoys being single) and the revelation of unexpected emotional fire – "Now I see how my heart works."

The pain of love, however, is distinctly secondary (on-the-spot fines should be payable by productions staging bittersweet minor-key endings that play against the text) as director Mike Alfreds negotiates Bartlett into an almost unambiguous grin. A hoot for all but the purists.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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