Saturday 8 April 2017

Theatre review: The Lottery of Love

Its programming is fairly varied but Artistic Director Paul Miller's productions of classics a couple of times a year have become a signature of the Orange Tree. He usually picks British plays from the last century or so, but this time he's ventured a bit further afield, to the 18th century French writer Marivaux and his comedy The Lottery of Love. Sylvia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Richard (Ashley Zhangazha) have been promised to each other since childhood, and are about to meet for the first time. Their fathers have both agreed they only need to go ahead with the marriage if they like each other, and Sylvia wants to make sure she catches Richard as he really is, not just on his best behaviour. So she hatches a scheme, agreed to by her father Mr Morgan (Pip Donaghy,) to trade places with her maid Louisa (Claire Lams,) and get all the gossip from her prospective husband's servants.

What her father doesn't tell her is he's received a letter tipping him off that Richard's had the same idea, and will be swapping places with his manservant John Brass (Keir Charles.)

Each of the four immediately falls in love with their opposite number but, thinking they're from wildly different social classes, is devastated they can't be together. The Orange Tree has famously had funding problems so instead of commissioning a new translation from the French, they use a 1983 version by the late novelist John Fowles, and it's a bit of a handicap; the language is quite formal but not particularly poetic, and it's all a bit restrained - the closest thing the script has to be a bit of naughtiness is a mention that "Brass" rhymes with "arse."

And the production as a whole is also bit tame and polite, and once again I find myself sorry that Jessica Swale's success as a writer means she's not available to thrown the kitchen sink at plays like this. But the cast do help bring the better scenes to life, especially those between the two servants, as where the other three at least attempt to convince as someone else, Brass makes little effort to pass as his master so Charles goes to town making him dishevelled and chaotic; while Lams is brilliant when Louisa's given permission to turn on the charm and flirts the house down.

Much as I love a short running time I also got the impression that a lot was missing - there's only six characters but even so Tam Williams gets very little to do as Sylvia's brother Martin. In fact the play rather weirdly ends with him alone on stage a bit mournful, as if he's been left out of the romantic shenanigans; but as there's only two women in the play, and one's a servant and the other's his sister, he was never in them anyway. It sort of reads like the ghost of an excised subplot. It's all very jolly but it never really lets loose.

The Lottery of Love by Pierre de Marivaux in a version by John Fowles is booking until the 13th of May at the Orange Tree Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks.

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