WORTH A LOOK?: **
WHEN: 30/3, press night 3/4, runs to 26/5/18
We’re here for the casting of Linda Bassett, reviewed on this site in Escaped Alone at the Royal Court, as matriarch Lady Wishfort but she is replaced before previews begin.
- Read on for reasons including how Bassett’s replacement Haydn Gwynne shapes up
Haydn Gwynne (reviewed on this site in The Threepenny Opera at the National) now stars in this Restoration comedy by William Congreve which is set near this Covent Garden venue and was first performed in 1700.
It is the story of lovers Mirabell (Streatfeild, straighter than we expected him to be) and Millamant (Justine Mitchell, packing some critical heat after the West End transfer of the National’s recent Beginning) who need Lady Wishfort’s blessing if they are to marry.
We catch the play’s second preview and the bad news is that, despite being advertised as three hours and 15 minutes plus interval, it’s lost 15 minutes but is already way too long. The ill-advised dance near its end definitely deserves the chop.
Congreve has clearly influenced Oscar Wilde with his ideas of town and country but the language is as impenetrable as Shakespeare’s and is as difficult to follow, especially when the talented cast are so struggling to make it comprehensible to its audience.
At the interval one of our party leaves because the first half (a very long 105 minutes) has failed to grip and in the second the audience has clearly diminished and we can hear some audible snoring around us.
Gwynne tries to inject some physical comedy into the second half but it is Mitchell’s questioning Millamant who director James Macdonald should be spotlighting but the focus in this second preview is all over the place, without a sense of what is working (not much) and what isn’t (the majority).
The supporting cast is strong and we appreciated Fisayo Akinade’s foppish Witwoud and Sarah Hadland’s deceitful Foible but by the end of the three-hour-long piece we have a sense of why it is so rarely performed.