The Double Dealer
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.
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.
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.
an 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.
also 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.
bit 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.
in 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 underplaying him.
mode 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
one 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.
play 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.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review
Review - The Double Dealer - Orange Tree Theatre 2018