Richard Lutz takes his pew at The Swan in Stratford for a Restoration romp that hits the bullseye for farce and wit
The Restoration playwright William Congreve must have known his audience when he penned Love for Love in the 1690s.
Things were loosening up, the absolutism of James II was finished and there was a relative rush of freedoms of the press and stage.
So throw in a title that nudges towards romance and hanky-panky and you know bums will be placed firmly on seats.
But the Royal Shakespeare Company production doesn’t simply leave it as a late 17th sex romp. There are hard truths in this lighthearted satire on the middle classes ability to gull each other for selfish reasons and be a little economical with the truth.
It all comes bubbling up as young hero Valentine finds himself deeply in debt but in love with witty heiress Angelica. But she won’t give him a tumble because he’s broke and his stern father wants to give all his loot to the wayward sea-going younger brother, all sea salt, sea shanties and a cheeky eye for the ladies.
It could have been a passable play at that level. But director Selina Cadell uncovers the undercurrents of the Restoration. There is the gulf between the rising urban classes and the simple rural folk; there is the battle of the sexes which relies- according to the script- on duplicity and guile. And there is the selfishness within the commercial and landed classes that is encapsulated in Valentine’s callow father, Sir Sampson Legend, played craftily by Nicholas Le Prevost.
The result is a nearly faultless production. Some of the quick wink-wink nudge-nudge jousting may go on a bit. Some of the speeches can be a bit pedantic when pressing home a point about money, religion or the battle of the sexes. And think Oscar Wilde rather than The Marx Brothers when it comes to laughs.
But that is well balanced by some fine acting. . There is a fop to remember in the wonderfully named Tattle, played with over the top dandyism by Jonathan Broadbent and a sharp tongued and sharp minded Angelica cunningly portrayed by Justine Mitchell.
And hats off, if that’s the right phrase, to costume designer Sabine LeMaitre who gloriously summoned up the times with peacock dandified clothes that brilliantly displayed a time in England when the country was just beginning to flex its domestic and international muscles.
Until 22 January, 2016. Box office: 01789 403493.