The Lottery of Love
The Orange Tree Theatre, 13th April 2017
Apparently there is even a noun for it, “Marivaudage”. Slightly sarcastically applied, but it describes a way of writing that is precious or affected, and is derived from our friend Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux (I so wish my name was as replete with syllables), whose romcom Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard was on show here in a translation by John Fowles.
This was my first exposure to Marivaux and all up it was OK. The action has been transposed from C18 France to Regency England. Posh daughter Sylvia is engaged to Richard but has never met him. So she asks Dad if she can swap identities with her maid Louisa and Dad says yes, as you would. But our suitor Richard has the same idea and swaps identities with his man Brass. But Dad knows this having received a letter to that effect from a mate. And brother is also pulled in to the deception to spice it up. Cue confusion, some gentle satire on the behaviour of the toffs and the servants, some will she/he, won’t she/he, fall in love, the reveal and an all live happy ever after denouement.
So I guess not the most incisive or surprising of plots (it is after all rooted in the stock characters and plots of commedia dell’arte), though there is a bit of keeping up with who knows what. In fairness, it gets to the point mercifully quickly and director (Paul Miller), cast and especially translator, in the inestimable Mr Fowles, all apply a delicate touch. Kier Charles as Brass lays it on a bit thick as vulgar cockney playing milord but that does at least ratchet up the gag count. Claire Lams as Louisa (who was very good in Kiss Me at the Hampstead Theatre as she needed to be in a play with a slightly one dimensional premise) was a little subtler.
The standout for me though was Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Sylvia. She was the best thing by far in the Philanderer at the Orange Tree as well last year. Shaw can annoy me at the best of times and in contrast to most of the audience and the reviews I really didn’t like this. Otherwise I confess I have not seen her on stage but she was perfect in this, nimble of speech and movement and well beyond caricature. Surely only a matter of time before she is on the telly as an Austen lead (Emma Woodhouse the obvious choice). I assume, with a name like that, this was her parent’s plan from the off.
So overall a pleasant enough afternoon with the pensioners who make up the OT matinee audience though I might have wished for a little more exploration of the class conflicts at the heart of the plot, as well as the love stuff. Still a decent enough entry point in Marivaux. Now I need some more Moliere revivals.
As an aside for those who don’t know the Orange Tree, it is, in my view, the best “fringe” theatre in London, closely followed to be fair by the Southwark Playhouse, Park Theatre, Arcola and Finborough. Not everything turns to gold under Paul Miller’s stewardship, especially in some of the the OT revivals, but when it gets it right it is outstanding. Recent favourites have included Jess and Joe Forever (a stunningly inventive work by Zoe Cooper), The Rolling Stone (a powerful indictment of intolerance in Uganda by Chris Urch), The Brink (another dark new play by Brad Birch), Winter Solstice (a formally inventive comic dissection of the lure of fascism by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig, Blue Heart (a superb revival of Caryl Churchill’s amazing diptych) and Sheppey (Somerset Maugham’s last humanist play). So if you’re not a local it really is worth the schlep out to Richmond. Look out for the next season – unlike some (here’s looking at you Royal Court) the blurbs give you a pretty good idea of what is on offer.