Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2017
An eighteenth-century romantic comedy with more hearty laughs and more real heart than most recent examples, Pierre Marivaux' Lottery Of Love is a happy addition to this adventurous suburban theatre's record of mixing a modern repertoire with rediscovered classics.
It's also a whole lot of fun.
Heiress Sylvia is set to meet Richard, the man her father has chosen for her while giving her absolute veto rights. To be able to check him out from the sidelines, as it were, Sylvia changes clothes with her maid Louisa.
What she doesn't know, though we and her father do, is that Richard has hit on the same plan, switching identities with his man Brass.
Anyone who can't write the whole play in your head at this point has never seen a comedy in your life, so I offer no spoiler alerts.
Thrown together in the servants' hall, Sylvia and Richard fall for each other, each wrestling with the fear that they are being drawn to a social inferior. And upstairs the two servants-disguised-as-masters mix attraction with the prospect of marrying up.
Dorothea Myer-Bennett generates a lot of the fun by playing Sylvia as a sister to Shakespeare's Rosalind, longing to throw herself at the guy but trapped by her own disguise.
Keir Charles makes Brass such a crude but amiable bloke that he couldn't pass for a gentleman if his life depended on it, so he soon gives up and just lets his good-natured high spirits shine through.
Following the conventions of the genre, Claire Lams' maid is the most sharp-witted and street-smart of the group, quick to spot what looks like her big opportunity but wise enough to see that the 'real' Brass isn't a bad catch either.
And in what seems at first like the most thankless role of the four, Ashley Zhangazha raises Richard above being merely straight man to the others by letting us see both the sincerity of his at-first-sight love and the depth of character that lets him (as he thinks) triumph over social convention.
If the others get more laughs, it is he and Myer-Bennett who give the play its heart.
Director Paul Miller not only draws these nuanced and entertaining performances from his cast, which also includes Pip Donaghy and Tam Williams as the heroine's amused father and brother, but makes inventive use of the Orange Tree's intimate in-the-round space.
With actors sometimes inches from the audience, understated gestures and facial expressions can register effectively, and the text's many asides and spoken thoughts are are aimed directly toward individuals in the front rows, drawing us all into the play and adding to the in-on-the-joke fun.
Even at a sprightly ninety minutes without interval, you just might sense the central joke beginning to wear a little thin toward the end. But things are wrapped up so quickly, neatly and happily that you will leave the theatre with the all's-right-with-the-world delight that the best romantic comedy can provide.
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Review - Lottery Of Love - Orange Tree Theatre 2017