Orange Tree Theatre Winter 2018-2019
essence of Restoration comedy is high wit, decorous bawdry, incredibly
convoluted plots and stock comic characters as tightly defined and broadly
drawn as in any Christmas Panto. Selina Cadell's production of William
Congreve's Double Dealer touches all the bases, making for a stylish and
consistently funny evening.
simplification of the plot: Mellefont and Cynthia are in love and plan to
marry. But older Lady Touchwood lusts after Mellefont and decides that if
she can't have him, no one can. To that end she enlists her lover Maskwell
to break them up. But Maskwell has schemes of his own, with designs both
on Cynthia and on Mellefont's inheritance.
goes on against a comic backdrop of fools, fops, ladies using their
supposed prudishness to mask their adulterous yearnings, men perfectly
happy to serve those yearnings, and blindly happy cuckolded husbands.
actually delivers well above the usual quota of comic types – allowing for
a little overlap between categories, there actually three seemingly chaste
but secretly randy wives, three cuckolded husbands, and two foppish fools.
actress who has appeared in Restoration comedies, director Selina Cadell
knows the genre well, and she has guided her cast to exactly the right
balance of subtlety, broad comedy and self send-up, so that every
character functions on the same heightened-reality level and every
potential gag, bawdy or not, is fully realised.
uses the Orange Tree's in-the-round stage more effectively than any
director since founder Sam Walters, exploiting the text's many asides and
spoken thoughts to have the actors address the audience – sometimes
individual members – directly, bringing us in on the joke.
also realises, as too many directors don't, that the in-the-round staging
requires every actor to keep moving, because anyone planted in one place
will have his or her back to half the audience.
unusually for the genre, the central couple are not particularly active
plotters, but function more as the targets and victims of the others. This
means that actor Lloyd Everitt as Mellefont actually has one of the least
defined and developed characters to play, and he must generously serve the
production by functioning as straight man and feed to the others.
character of Cynthia is even blander, but actress Zoe Waites also doubles
as Lady Touchwood, moving smoothly and always clearly between the chaste
heroine and the randy old would-be villainess, even when she has to jump
back and forth within a scene, and the inventiveness and high energy of
her doubling adds considerably to the fun.
a bit of a variation from the genre, the play's title character and most
active figure is the villainous Maskwell. While a case might be made for
even more Panto-level broad playing than Edward MacLiam brings to the
role, I'd argue that he and director Cadell made the right choice in
is to fool everyone into thinking he's working for them against the
others, and MacLiam keeps us guessing for a while as to whose side he's on
before coming out clearly and hiss-the-villain openly as following his own
might wish that the fools were a little more foolish or the cuckolds a
little more comic. But having chosen a level of comic reality director
Cadell wisely and skilfully keeps everyone and everything on that
thoroughly entertaining level.
itself loses steam toward the end as Congreve rather perfunctorily wraps
up all the plot strands, and the last half-hour or so begins to drag in a
way the rest hadn't.
Up to then it is as romping and ribald as you could ask a Restoration comedy to be.
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Review - The Double Dealer - Orange Tree Theatre 2018