The Theatreguide.London Review
Love In A Wood
Swan Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon Summer 2001
The Royal Shakespeare Company has always mixed some new plays into its repertoire, along with the Shakespeares, and more recently has been exploring the long and relatively obscure stretch of English drama between Shakespeare and Shaw.
William Wycherley's 1641 comedy of manners is one of the lesser-known products of the Restoration fascination with the follies of a London gentry devoted with equal fervour to stylishness, wit, promiscuity and the hunt for a sufficiently rich partner for that dreaded day when one would have to marry (though, of course, that event need not seriously interfere with the continuation of the first three pursuits).
Wycherley's play proves a witty and surprisingly cynical picture of romantic complications, though Tim Supple's RSC production is not wholly successful.
The plot is far too complex to try to summarize fully. Suffice to say that, in a world in which couples declare undying love in the drawing room and then rush off separately for masked flirtations in the park, more than a dozen main characters are torn between the calls of romantic fidelity and the lure of the quickie.
One rake, played by Roger Bowman, confuses two masked ladies and chases the wrong one. Another (Louis Hilyer) thinks his friend (Stephen Noonan) is helping him get the girl he wants, only to have the friend steal her. A puritanical father (Paul Bentall) keeps his daughter locked up but himself falls prey to blackmailing whores.
Among the women, a husband-hunting widow (Diana Kent) oddly thinks that railing against marriage will attract men, while a lady suspicious of her lover (Amanda Drew) foolishly tempts him to stray, and a runaway bride (Anna Madeley) proves that she who will deceive her father should not be trusted by her husband.
The level of verbal wit is high, a recurring pattern having characters insult others to their faces so cleverly that the listeners think they're being flattered.
The satisfyingly complicated plot strands seem all to find their way to happy endings until a series of sudden twists and character revelations end the play on a darkly cynical note, with everyone cursed by getting what they thought they wanted.
Unfortunately, Tim Supple's sluggish and rhythmless direction neither provides the energy and snap to match the verbal wit and farcical structure, nor prepares for the dark ending.
So the play meanders through several lifeless stretches in its three-hour length
(There's an Act of Parliament somewhere requiring all RSC productions to run three hours, when a little spark in the staging could easily have cut a half-hour from this one).
And, if I may be allowed to express a pet peeve, Sue Willmington's costume design makes the basic error of dressing and wigging all the men almost identically, so that one spends much of the play uncertain as to who's who.
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