fri 19/04/2024

The Lottery of Love, Orange Tree Theatre review - the fragile charm of artifice | reviews, news & interviews

The Lottery of Love, Orange Tree Theatre review - the fragile charm of artifice

The Lottery of Love, Orange Tree Theatre review - the fragile charm of artifice

Marivaux via John Fowles, through the prism of Jane Austen

Together at last: Ashley Zhangazha, Dorothea Myer-BennettImages by Helen Maybanks

The social permutations of love are beguilingly explored in the 90-minute stage traffic of Marivaux’s The Lottery of Love, with Paul Miller’s production at the Orange Tree Theatre making the most of the venue’s unencumbered in-the-round space to dance the action along at a brisk pace. The only adornment in Simon Daw’s design is an elaborate chandelier, bedecked with candles and hanging roses, but the sheer élan of the piece more than occupies the stage in itself.

The theatre's Richmond location couldn’t be better either, the Georgian villas around its Green and along the Thames just the kind of setting in which the protagonists of this adaptation would have been at home. This production of the French dramatist’s 1730 play comes in the translation by John Fowles – a fruit of the novelist’s collaboration with Peter Hall at the National in the early 1980s, it apparently only received a workshop production there, so this outing is billed as a premiere – which brings the action forward by a century to Regency England.

The impersonation will allow her to appraise her would-be partner at one remove

For Fowles, the attractions of the later period were intricately linked to one of its luminaries, Jane Austen: he wrote about “the hoops of self-learning that Marivaux constantly puts his women through”, specifically comparing the play’s heroine Sylvia with the earlier novelist’s Emma Woodhouse. The change of setting surely adds depth: Marivaux’s original, titled Le Jeu de l’amour et du hazard, was rooted in the commédie Italienne of its times, but here we sense more keenly the dilemma of a young woman seeking to direct her own world, one in which if marriage does not work on an emotional level, all the appurtenances of wealth and rank will be as nothing.  

That said, The Lottery of Love offers a style of courting ritual you would not expect to find, say, at Pemberley. Sylvia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett, lovely in the depths of character she spins out through the piece) has been offered a potentially suitable match by her father, and the arrival of Richard (Ashley Zhangazha), son of an old family friend, heralds their first meeting. But it’s clear from the start that the choice will be Sylvia’s alone, and to give herself greater independence in that process she decides to exchange places with her maid Louisa (Claire Lams). The impersonation, she hopes, will allow her to appraise her would-be partner at one remove.Keir Charles and Claire Lams in The Lottery of Love, Orange Tree TheatreWhen that plan receives her father’s blessing, all seems set for a simple mistress-maidservant role reversal. Little do the ladies know, however, that Richard has come up with a similar ruse. His father has informed her father of the plan and we, the audience, are in cahoots, the stage set for an elaborate dance of characters being tested by repeating situations in which they are only aware of one level of the truth, while our complicity enhances the dramatic delight of the deceit.

As Sylvia and Richard discover a mutual attraction, they become increasinlgy uneasy that such feelings are contrary to their own (and society's) expectations. The servant-servant interaction proves more fluid, helped by the ease with which Richard’s servant Brass (Keir Charles, enjoying a riot of a role) assumes a delightedly dandyish role, the exaggerated foppery of which absorbs the manners of his natural servant origins. In this rampant class crossover, Louisa proves cunningly adept at mimicking the manners of her mistress, too. (Pictured above: Keir Charles, Claire Lams)

Pip Donagty in The Lottery of Love, Orange Tree TheatreThe play-off of such layers of knowledge, and self-knowledge, comes thick and fast. Never more so than when Marivaux adds a further final-act dimension of deception, allowing Sylvia, who by now is in the know, to test Richard’s feelings one last time. It’s carried off with such gusto that whatever genuine confusions may have arisen by this point are somehow forgotten. And something deeper runs beneath it all, too. Whether Fowles’s version adds an additional English note or not, it's hard not to recall the dramatic resolutions of Shakespeare's great comedies, involving as they do disguises of gender (Myer-Bennett’s line here, “I would love you if I could”, is one she has also uttered as As You Like It’s Rosalind).

The ensemble playing already has considerable verve, and will surely gain extra finesse as the run continues. The two female roles may be its highlights, but Pip Donaghy (pictured above) in the smaller role of the father is especially good, enjoying all this confusion with a knowing benignity (Fowles had wondered if Marivaux was allowing himself an element of self-portrait in the character). He finds just the right lightness to convey The Lottery of Love’s fragile charm, the elusive collusion between players and audience that allows us to be simultaneously caught up in its action, even as we are aware of its airy artifice.

The play-off of such layers of knowledge, and self-knowledge, comes thick and fast


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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