The Soldiers’ Fortune – March 2007

5/10

By: Thomas Otway

Directed by: David Lan

Venue: Young Vic

Date: Saturday 10th March 2007

This was our first trip to the refurbished Young Vic, and it was really good to see it open again. They’ve opened it up much more, although the character of the place hasn’t changed, and although the auditorium looks bigger, it’s still the same basic shape. (The loos are much better, as well.) The entrance to the auditorium is now in the centre, so I’ll describe all productions as if I’m standing in the doorway. If today’s production is anything to go by, there could be some weird and wonderful play sets to come.

We sat in the second row, to the right of the entrance, and fairly central. The set was very elaborate, more so when the curtains on the “stage” stage opened. From the doorway, there were several levels leading up to a proscenium arch stage with drawn curtains. These levels or steps took up a fair bit of room, and the stone effect gave an outdoor feel. To the right of these steps, the musicians were perched on a slope – piano, double bass, cello, accordion and guitar, with the piano player also on flute. David Bamber’s character, Sir Jolly, also played a few numbers on the piano. All the musicians were in period costume, and doubled as whores and watchmen. The music was good – a bit jerky and strident most of the time, typical Restoration stuff, at least as it’s done nowadays.

When the curtains opened, we could see another whole level behind, reaching back to the wall of the theatre, from the look of it. Another staircase swept upwards to the left, and there were some arches under it. Together with a sunken area on the extreme left of the performance area, this meant there were about six or seven different levels to perform on, depending on whether you count the actual floor as well, and the total performance space looked bigger than the seating area!

Given that this was a Saturday matinee, and not that well attended, it meant that the atmosphere was distinctly lacking. The actors all did their best, and there were many excellent performances, but the production just didn’t sparkle. With such a big area to cover, there wasn’t the same sense of intimacy we were used to, and the play itself came across as a bit thin, lacking any real substance. (One of the dangers of seeing so much Shakespeare is that other writing can seem insipid by comparison.) Still, we had a few good laughs, and enjoyed it as much as we could.

The basic story involves a young man who comes back from the wars with no money, and finds the love of his life has married a rich old idiot in his absence. She works a very devious plan to get together with her former lover, using her husband himself as the go-between. There are the usual misunderstandings, before they get to spend a night of passion in the husband’s house, practically under his nose (he thinks the chap is dead, at his instigation, so he’s got other things on his mind). Eventually, the husband has to agree to the relationship continuing, or risk exposure as a cuckold.

A sub-plot has the hero’s friend, also back from the wars, falling in love with Sir Jolly’s adopted daughter. Sir Jolly is the Pandarus of this play, constantly helping lovers to come together, and getting as much pleasure out of watching as they do out of the action. The friend finally wins the daughter’s heart and hand, so all ends pretty happily.

Hopefully the next production we see here will be more challenging.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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