||"Excellent production of tangled play"
by Matthew Partridge for remotegoat on 04/05/13
A lot of Restoration Comedy is about the fear of being cheated upon, or 'cuckolded' in the slang of the period. It's therefore not surprising that "The London Cuckolds", which is now running at the Pleasance in Islington, is concerned with three husbands and their unsatisfied wives. Dashwell (Nico Lennon) is married to the supposedly pious Eugenia (Holly Blair), Doodle (Benedict Chambers) to the witty Arabella (Stephanie Hampton) while Wisacres (Phillip Scott-Wallace) has creepily married to the teenage simpleton Peggy (Katie Arnstein). However, while each of the trio think that their match makes them secure from humiliation, events prove them wrong. In contrast, three gallants; Ramble (James Marlowe), Townly (Benjamin Darlington) and Loveday (Anthony Pinnick), see their persistence rewarded.
Director Danny Wainwright has made several clever decisions. He sets it in the 1920s, a period that is modern enough to engage the audience, yet one that parallels many of the mores and mannerisms of the late seventeenth century. He also works with designer Ele Slade to create a set that is stripped down enough to function in the cosy auditorium, but clear enough to minimise the need for frequent transitions. The cast also work hard to underline the comedy, both during the fast-paced bedroom scenes and the subtler moments of wit, such as servant Engine's (Alyssa Noble) monologue about how the changing mores of the era were reflected in the language.
Of course, the production is not perfect. The play is tangled, requiring you to suspend disbelief during certain passages. There are times when even the cast and the set can't compensate for the fact that the play needs a physically bigger space. However, despite the shortcomings of the underlying material, the evening is generally entertaining.
Photography supplied by Let Them Call It Mischief
Although first performed as long ago as 1681, we must confess, Edward Ravenscroft's The London Cuckolds wasn't a play we had previously come across. It's hardly surprising though, given young theatre company Let Them Call It Mischief deliberately seek out forgotten gems, rather than stage anything already in vogue. They try to bring back plays into public eye that shouldn't have disappeared in the first place, and by golly, they've done well with this particular find.
The script, typical of Restoration Comedy, is an energetic farce, full of slapstick and bawdiness. The usual Carry On shenanigans that are masked as a bit more intellectual because of their language. It centres around three City business men, all determined to prove that they've chosen the best wife, together with the three women themselves, two would-be Lotharios and for good measure, one very merry alcoholic. There's a large cast, and a corresponding amount of well-planned chaos.
Dashwell (Nico Lennon) has opted for a virtuous wife, Eugenia (Holly Blair) - Doodle (Benedict Chambers) has chosen the witty Arabella (Stephanie Hampton) - and Wiseacres (Phillip Scott-Wallace) is about to get hitched to a simple, young country bumpkin called Peggy (Katie Arnstein). Each man is convinced he has taken sufficient steps to avoid being cuckolded, but Eugenia and Arabella have different ideas, aided by their maids, Engine (Alyssa Noble) and Jane (Sarah Bradnam), and full of naiveté, Peggy too is open to corruption.
The actors all deliver strong performances, embracing the nature of the beast wholeheartedly. The rich have over-hammed RP accents, the underclasses are sufficiently cockneyed. Michael Quinlan delights as every minor character - amongst others, Roger, the hapless servant of Ramble (James Marlowe), Peggy's rather fierce Irish aunt, and the police officer who threatens to lock up Townly (Benjamin Darlington). He switches between accents, and picks up props along the way - but is always gurning and contorting his long frame to get the laughs. Indeed, all the male actors are impossibly tall, which makes for some well-earned laughs as they try to hide away in the smallest of spaces.
Photography supplied by Let Them Call It Mischief
As Ramble tries to bed as many women has he can, and is inevitably thwarted, he ends up in some hilarious situations. Marlowe's eyes bulge out of his face, his expression aghast, and, like the rest of the ensemble, he shows a gift for physical comedy. His vocal mannerisms, noises and slippery, ornate enunciation would make Kenneth Williams proud. And like old Ken's characters, we often laugh with Ramble - and more frequently at him.
Director Danny Wainwright keeps tucking the cast away in the corners of the audience, a move which initially seems distracting, but as the show goes on, becomes far less of an issue. The players all interact with each other, but when they deliver monologues, they are talking to the audience, and even pass their drinks - and their trousers - to the spectators to hold. Never was the fourth wall so blurry, but with the studio laid out in a U configuration, and Townly extolling the merits of drunkenness, everything goes a bit squiggly.
A simple Art Deco set from Ele Slade forms the backdrop for the entire play. It's upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber. With so many actors coming on and off stage all the time, it's a justified decision to not make the intimate space over-fussy. Slade's design is clean and stylish. Lighting from Tom Kitney is competent and well-timed throughout, but really comes into its own when Loveday (Anthony Pinnick) plays a trick on Dashwell, Arabella and Jane. This scene really allows Kitney to have some fun. Often the role of a good lightening designer is to go unnoticed, so it's always nice when a script provides them with the opportunity to let loose.
The studio is a great little space but lacks air conditioning. With so many characters running around, a near enough full-house and the summer starting to make an appearance, it can warm up uncomfortably. But with mid-week tickets a very reasonable tenner, you can afford to buy a couple of cold drinks from the bar, which undoubtedly takes the edge off the summer mugginess. And it's certainly worth battling with the heat, the play is slick, beautifully executed and most importantly, very very funny.
The London Cuckolds opened on 1st May and runs until 12th May 2013. http://www.viewsfromthegods.co.uk/the-london-cuckolds.shtml