By William Congreve
Directed by Selina Cadell
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Monday 7th December 2015
Nearly thirty years ago we saw a production of this play at the National, with an amazing cast which included Michael Bryant, Stephen Moore, Amanda Redman, Sara Kestleman and Sally Dexter amongst the leading actors. Despite this, neither of us has any recollection of the play or the performances: I suspect the language was much too dense for me due to my lack of experience with Restoration dialogue, and Steve may have a similar excuse. Tonight, thanks to the RSC, we had all the fun of rediscovering this little gem, and in a production which would be hard to forget, regardless of the density of the language. This production sparkled with wit and cheeky humour, the cast were all excellent, and the RSC should probably be claiming royalties from The Play That Goes Wrong, since their use of carefully rehearsed ‘accidents’ has been going on for several decades now, and will be continuing into the foreseeable future judging by this performance. Plenty to enjoy already, and we have all the fun of an understudy run tomorrow as well. Jubilate!
Light-coloured wooden floorboards covered the stage and walkways, there were period chairs and a chaise with matching pale upholstery, a fake proscenium arch in light marble edged the rear of the thrust and the effect was carried right round the top of the auditorium, as well as including the outline of a box in the middle of the upper balcony. When we arrived, the stage was cluttered with hanging ropes and various items, including a crocodile lying across a pair of trestles at the front of the stage (surely that should be next door, threatening Captain Hook?) At the back was a cloth with “Queen Anne by Helen Edmundson” on it – a lovely in-joke, given the pairing of the two plays and Queen Anne’s partiality to Love For Love. We could also see a clothes rail at the back, a barrel and other assorted items.
With ten minutes to go, some of the actors came on in period costume but without their jackets, and began to set the stage up for the performance. A couple of them carried on a large RSC hamper, and there was also a member of the stage management team bossing people around. What with sorting out the ropes – they were having lights and lanterns attached to them to be raised up – and chatting to the audience, there was too much going on to take it all in, but we did notice when one chap fell off a ladder at the back and called out for help; he was rescued, eventually.
More actors came on, including the ladies, and while a few of the actresses primped around coquettishly getting the audience’s attention, others helped with the preparations. The crocodile was attached to a couple of ropes and hauled up, with some banter which I didn’t catch, and all the while people were coming in and trying to find their seats. One group had a problem – they reckoned they were in our row – and Michael Fenton Stevens came past us to try and find their seats, but no luck. Earlier, he had held up a sheet with Love For Love on it, and asked the nearest audience members if this was the play they’d come to see.
More chatting, clothes were being hung on the rail, and then ‘Queen Anne’ was recognised (Row A, middle of right side) and after bowing and curtsying by the cast and applause from us, she was given her crown to wear; she kept it on for the whole performance, but I didn’t see what happened at the end. A dead deer (fake) was carried on at the back of the stage and taken off via the left walkway (right by us in row F). There were various comments: an actor asked if anyone wanted some venison, and there was something about being the rear end of a pantomime donkey. A long pole was hung across the back of the thrust with two white curtains hanging from it, and once that was lifted into place we were almost ready to begin.
The musicians were in the lower corners, and struck up some music, but then Justine Mitchell (Evie in For Services Rendered at Chichester this summer) wearing a frock coat and breeches, came on to do the prologue with the house lights still up. This was very entertaining, and when she left, another sheet was lowered from the upper balcony which read “Valentine’s lodgings”. In case we hadn’t spotted it, Justine came back on to the rear left corner to tell us “Act 1: Valentine’s lodgings”. It was all very good-humoured, and got us off to a lively start.
The two beginners came on as Justine was telling us where we were, and took lots of bows all around the stage, with the usual flourishes. One of them, who turned out to be Jeremy, was carrying a large book which he handed to the taller gentleman, Valentine. The latter then lounged on the chaise to read the book while Jeremy stood dutifully to one side. Long pause – Valentine read, Jeremy stood, and we waited for something to happen. Thanks to the busy pre-show entertainment, we found this interval funny rather than boring.
Once Valentine began to speak, we quickly picked up the main threads of the story: Valentine had no money, his father was refusing to pay his debts, he was in love with a young, beautiful and very rich lady called Angelica, and he had a brother called Benjamin or ‘Ben’. They took a long pause after naming Valentine’s bother, ‘Ben’, emphasising the name and giving us meaningful looks to ensure we took in this useful piece of information – Ben would evidently be turning up later and taking a hand in events.
There was plenty of audience participation in this show: it began in the pre-show activities and continued throughout. During this scene, Valentine took a copy of the program from Queen Anne or someone next to her, and perused it as he lounged on the chaise, apparently scribbling down some notes for the satire he intended to write. When he was done with that, he casually passed the program back to a chap in the centre front row, and when he realised it was the wrong person he simply waved at him to pass the program back, which he did by sliding it across the stage. This was all very funny, but it didn’t distract from the play.
Jeremy had been holding forth for some time about the poor diet enjoyed by writers compared to men of sense, when Scandal, one of Valentine’s friends, appeared on the left balcony and called down to them. He was appalled to hear that Valentine intended to become a poet, and after joining them on stage, delivered several witty lines advising Valentine to shun such a profession.
There were more arrivals: Valentine’s father’s steward, a chap called Trapland – I didn’t catch his name at the time but the cast list was very helpful – and a “nurse with one of your children from Twitnam”. Valentine was somewhat put out by having the nurse turn up, but fished in his pocket for some spare change, while Scandal was delighted that “bouncing Margery” and his godson were there, throwing Jeremy a large purse of money to give to Margery along with various instructions regarding her personal hygiene, all of which was very funny.
The first of the visitors to be shown into the room was Trapland, who was keen to get back some of the money he was owed; he was accompanied by a couple of minders. Valentine tried to distract him by plying him with wine, aided by Scandal. Jeremy took every opportunity to top up Trapland’s glass, so although he did his best to refuse a drink and tried to get the discussion back to Valentine paying his debt, he got absolutely nowhere. Trapland even held his glass out behind him at one point to escape Jeremy’s attentions, only for Scandal, who was lurking in the vicinity, to top it up from his own glass instead.
This could have gone on for some time, but for the minders getting restless. Apparently this was an opportune time of day for making arrests, and they were missing out. At the same time the other visitor, Valentine’s father’s steward, wanted to discuss an offer which Sir Sampson had made to clear Valentine’s debts. Valentine told Trapland he could send his men away, and introduced him to the steward so they could arrange the details of payment between themselves. While they conversed quietly in the background, Valentine explained to Scandal that the terms his father, Sir Sampson Legend, was imposing on him were terribly hard. In return for four thousand pounds, Valentine had to sign away his right to inherit his father’s property in favour of his brother Ben – more meaningful looks at the audience.
The next arrival at Valentine’s door was a Mr Tattle; the language was a bit tricky here, but I gathered that Tattle was a close relation of Mrs Candour from Sheridan’s School For Scandal, in that he professed total secrecy while managing to impart every juicy detail of gossip to all and sundry. Despite Jeremy holding the door open for him, he marched straight onto the stage from the side and even stepped up onto the sofa to greet his dear friends, who indicated to him that he really did have to come in properly. So he went back to the rear of the stage and came through the doorway, talking all the time, which gave us plenty to laugh at. As he spoke his opening lines (that is, the ones after his first set of opening lines when he was on the stage ‘improperly’) he took off his hat – much laughter at his duck tail hairstyle with blond on top and brown underneath – and threw it towards Jeremy who was holding his stick, intending him to catch it – he missed. (No doubt there are occasions when it lands correctly; we may see one of those later.)
Played by Jonathan Broadbent, this was a very funny performance. Tattle tried to perch on the raised end of the chaise but his legs were too short, so he had to move onto the lower section. He also left his gloves with someone in the front row on the side, taking them back when he eventually left the stage. The conversation here was mainly gossip, and it was hard to follow at times, but their performances gave us all the clues we needed to understand the gist. Tattle seemed to be saying that he had lots of affairs with notable women, and let slip a few choice phrases such as “your grace” or similar, which gave the game away. However, when Mrs Frail’s arrival was announced, he collapsed with panic and tried to crawl under the chaise to hide. Or to escape, I’m not sure which. With some hard bargaining, Scandal agreed not to give Tattle away to Mrs Frail, as long as he got some juicy pieces of gossip for himself.
Mrs Frail (Zoe Waites) brought the news that her niece “Prue” had come to London from the country, and that “the old people” were arranging for her to marry Ben: plenty of significant looks to underline this plot development. There was some more chat as well, full of sexual innuendo, but once the characters left the stage, we moved to another location, a room in Foresight’s house. This was indicated by a change in lighting, the descent of the crocodile and some of the lanterns, and another small banner on the upper balcony telling us that this was, indeed, a room in Foresight’s house. One of the actors also made the Act 2 announcement and told us where we were, so they pretty much had it covered.
Foresight was a very superstitious chap, always casting horoscopes and looking for omens. He was pleased when one of the servants pointed out that he had one stocking on inside out – a good omen. [They were actually different colours, but I didn’t realise this till later.] He was Angelica’s uncle, and wanted her to stay indoors to prevent some particularly bad prediction from coming true, but she was intelligent and high-spirited enough to thwart his desires, and after arguing with him for a while she left to get a chair into town. (The nurse’s lines were largely cut from this scene.)
With the help of a servant, Foresight took off his dressing gown and put on a coat to receive Sir Sampson, who arrived brandishing a large piece of paper which was the bond Valentine had to sign, making over his inheritance rights to Ben. Foresight scrutinised it, but was more worried about the timing of the signature than the legal aspects, while Sir Sampson was rather snappy about his friend’s astrological concerns. They got into an argument about which of them knew more than the other, and Sir Sampson went into some meaty detail about his actions when he was younger, claiming that he was, in fact, the sire of “the present majesty of Bantam”. This claim to have cuckolded a king affected the insecure Foresight, who threatened to marry his daughter elsewhere, and Sir Sampson had to backpedal furiously to regain his friend’s good will, even offering him the “shoulder of an Egyptian king that I purloined from one of the pyramids”, as well as reassuring Foresight that his wife was completely faithful.
Valentine arrived, and tried to persuade his father not to enforce the conditions of the agreement which he, Valentine, had just signed. Sir Sampson was having none of it, and railed at his son’s impudence. Even Jeremy came in for some of his anger, given that Valentine had intimated that it was the cost of his servants that had led to his debts, and that his father was partly to blame for creating his appetites and desires. Sir Sampson stormed off with Foresight, who had said very little during this exchange, leaving Valentine free to seek after Angelica, the real reason for his visit to Foresight’s house; as she was out he also left the stage.
Next to arrive were Mrs Foresight and Mrs Frail, having a bit of an argument. I hadn’t realised thus far that they were sisters, and even their frequent use of the word “sister” to each other during this scene didn’t fully settle the point, since that word can be used between close non-siblings as a term of affection. Mind you, the way they were snapping at each other was more suggestive of sisterhood than friendship, and the relationship became clearer as the play went on. For now, I was aware that Mrs Foresight was telling off Mrs Frail and suggesting that she’d been to some notorious places. Unfortunately, her evidence turned out to be a bodkin of Mrs Frail’s which Mrs Foresight had acquired at the World’s End (presumably a tavern of dubious reputation) leading Mrs Frail to ask, quite reasonably, how her sister had found the bodkin?
With honours even (in more ways than one) the women lapsed into a truce, and Mrs Frail confided that she was concerned about her future, and planned to seduce Ben into marrying her, now that his father’s estate was to be left to him instead of Valentine. Mrs Foresight agreed to help her, and informed us that Prue was fond of Mr Tattle: if they could arrange that match, it would leave Ben free to marry someone else, and Mrs Frail would be in with a chance. And it just so happened that Prue and Mr Tattle were coming towards them, so their plan could get underway immediately.
Prue was a plain girl with a country accent, lubberly manner and very odd clothes. Tattle had given her a snuff box, which led to lots of sneezing when she sampled its contents. Despite Tattle’s protestations, the two older women accused him of trying to seduce the young, innocent girl. Using the excuse that they wanted to avoid being seen with Prue and Tattle, which might lead to accusations that they had connived to put the two together, Mrs Foresight and Mrs Frail left them alone. Tattle was aware that he was being given the green light, even though he didn’t know why, and was soon into seduction mode.
Not that it was easy: Prue was more than willing and had to be educated in the manners of polite love-making. Tattle gave a lovely description of how women were supposed to behave towards men, which involved a lot of lying and saying “no” when you meant “yes”. It was very funny, and Prue added to the humour by telling him she was angry with him and then running over and jumping on him to give him a kiss. He asked where her bedroom was, she said she wouldn’t tell him but that she would run off and hide there, and this led them into a fantastic chase sequence worthy of the Keystone Cops. She ran off, he followed, other actors came running across the stage in all directions, there was a dog on wheels, and all the while Mrs Frail and Mrs Foresight were watching from a side balcony. Eventually the door was brought forward and they went through it. Phew! The nurse came on and realised there was illicit activity going on inside the room, leaving the stage to “come in the back way”. The door then turned around, showing us Tattle and Prue inside the room. Ever the gallant, Tattle pushed Prue through the door to face the nurse alone, then scarpered off, announcing “Act 3” as he left. (Per the text, it’s actually Act 3, scene 3, but who cares?)
Valentine and Angelica were next on, accompanied by Scandal. Valentine was complaining that Angelica hadn’t made her feelings for him clear one way or the other, while she was fending him off by claiming she didn’t care either way. Tattle quickly turned up, and there was some more witty dialogue about his affairs, leading to Scandal requesting a woman who was sitting by the musicians to come on and sing a song for them. She did so, while they sat in the corners, and the last line was the theme of the play: “the nymph may be chaste who has never been tried”.
The song over, Sir Sampson, Mrs Frail and Prue joined the group on stage and the panels at the back were changed to show a dockyard scene. The sound of a ship’s horn was accompanied by seagull calls, while a seagull on a pole was carried across the stage. Sir Sampson was keen to see his younger son, Prue wasn’t interested, and Valentine left quickly in case his father insisted on him, Valentine, signing the deed to relinquish his inheritance then and there. Sir Sampson was angry at his disappearance, and relieved when Angelica indicated that she wasn’t attracted to him, but he went too far when he declared, with some relish, that he hoped to see his son dependent on some older woman with money – not a nice man.
Ben arrived, and was greeted warmly by Sir Sampson at least. I think something was thrown over him as he came on stage, but I couldn’t see what. He kissed the women and Tattle as well for good measure, and was sad to be reminded of his brother Richard’s death. When Sir Sampson brought up the idea of marriage, Ben wasn’t keen, but while Prue had other intentions than marrying a sailor, Mrs Frail was eyeing up Ben like a hungry dog eyes the last sausage in the shop. The two of them even indulged in a little seafaring banter, but the group soon left Ben and Prue together to do some wooing.
Two chairs had been brought on, and Prue sat on the left one, sulking, while Ben did his best to get to know her. She responded by speaking truthfully, telling him she didn’t like him and ended up insulting him as well. He didn’t take kindly to that, and responded pretty harshly, so when Mrs Foresight and Mrs Frail came on, Prue was in tears. Mrs Foresight helped Prue off, while Mrs Frail took Ben to her own room, leaving the stage empty when Sir Sampson arrived. Before I forget, Ben did some calling – not in the text – and the echo was done by another actor, who came on stage as needed – very funny.
Foresight came on with Sir Sampson, and was preoccupied with determining the best time of day to hold the wedding. He decided ten o’clock would be best, and Sir Sampson was in full agreement with him this time. Scandal arrived, and told Sir Sampson that Valentine was acting strangely and wanted to see both men the next day. Sir Sampson wasn’t impressed, and suspected it was Valentine’s attempt to delay signing the deed. He left, and Scandal got to work on Foresight. He feigned an interest in astrology, quoting some obscure texts which impressed Foresight greatly. Given that Foresight had previously given his, and the stars’, blessing to the marriage, Scandal had to persuade Foresight that he looked ill, as a possible reason for him having made a mistake about this wedding.
Mrs Foresight came on during this process, but Scandal used her presence to his advantage, managing not only to convince Foresight that he wasn’t well, but seducing Mrs Foresight into the bargain and making good use of her husband taking to his bed to spend the night with her. While Scandal was conferring with his wife, Foresight was getting himself worked up about the supposed symptoms which Scandal had mentioned. He became very worried, and even asked if there was a doctor in the house? This got a big laugh. He also commented “it’s a long play, isn’t it?” and headed off to bed having given some instructions to his servant.
Scandal was still working on Mrs Foresight when Mrs Frail and Ben turned up. They were arranging their relationship, and used a lot of nautical references in the process. Ben then sang a song, and the words for the chorus bit were lowered down from the upper balcony so we could all join in, with each verse being done separately. To finish off the first half, he also called some of his fellow mariners to do a dance, and to the tune of a lively hornpipe, they did some dancing on barrels. There were a couple of sailors at the back who kept being sent off – I assume they’d come on too soon – but it wasn’t entirely clear from our angle what was meant to happen. In any case, when the dance was finished, Scandal gave us the final epithet – “There’s none but willing, waking love that can make blest the ripened maid and finished man” – and they all left for the interval.
I missed the early part of the interval as I went out to get some ice cream, but nothing much happened for the first five minutes or so. When I came back, two men were on the stage, sorting out some of the lanterns, and somehow one of them got his foot caught in one of the ropes which the other was lifting up. Much screaming and yelling, and the stage manager came on to sort things out, getting the actor at the rope to lower it down and telling them both off in no uncertain terms. She went off muttering darkly about having to do a risk assessment. The rest of the stage was tidied up, with the crocodile being raised up again as well, and then I spotted Scandal sitting in the audience before the restart.
There was a chair in the middle of the stage which was apparently in the wrong place, as the stage manager came on with one of the actors and told them to move it. He did – all of six inches – and he then took some bows which we applauded. Encouraged by this, he signalled to the musicians to start playing and he reprised a bit of the hornpipe which had ended the first half, jazzing it up with some modern movements which got us all back in the mood for the second half. Having taken more bows for his ‘impromptu’ dance, he announced “Act 4 – Valentine’s lodgings” and we were back into the play.
Valentine was feigning madness in order to avoid signing the deed, just as his father suspected. As Scandal discussed this strategy with Jeremy, one of the musicians produced a “cuckoo” sound whenever someone said the word “mad”, which was humorous, but then the actors kept looking around in surprise, which made it much funnier. (I realised later on that they didn’t use the sound every time – it seemed to be when a character used the word for the first time.) Within moments, we heard the sound of horses’ hooves (coconuts) and neighing (Angelica herself) followed by Jeremy’s line “I hear a coach stop” – much laughter. Angelica came on stage with her servant to see if the news about Valentine’s madness was true, and Jeremy and Scandal did their best to support the deception. But Angelica was no fool; she spotted a wink passing between them so decided to trick the tricksters in return. She feigned a lack of interest in Valentine’s fate, and left with her servant Jenny to the sound of hooves, neighing and our laughter.
The next to arrive was Sir Sampson who had brought with him Mr Buckram, a lawyer, in order to get the deed signed as soon as possible. The news that Valentine was mad led the lawyer to point out that the deed would not be valid if he signed it now, so Sir Sampson was naturally keen to check on Valentine’s condition for himself. The scene shifted round to inside the lodgings, with Valentine reclining on the chaise. He was dressed in his usual trousers, shirt and cummerbund, but he had a fez(?) on his head and one red sock was over his trouser leg instead of inside. His dressing gown was colourful and he affected some ‘crazy’ movements, both when lying down and when walking. He shook hands with one of the ladies in the audience, and Scandal copied him.
With such clear signs of madness, and some threatening comments about lawyers, Mr Buckram left the deed with Sir Sampson and scarpered. Once he was out of sight, Valentine ‘recovered’ enough for Sir Sampson to send for Buckram to return, but when the lawyer reappeared, Valentine relapsed into madness and chased him off again. When Foresight arrived, with his wife and Mrs Frail, Sir Sampson was angry enough to berate his friend for not ‘foreseeing’ that Valentine would be mad, and then he stormed off. With Sir Sampson gone, the others were informed of Valentine’s madness by Scandal. Mrs Frail was quick to realise that her intended husband, Ben, was no longer a likely prospect, and resolved to ditch him at the first opportunity. Likewise, Mrs Foresight was quick to deny any intimate acquaintance with Scandal, despite having spent the previous night with him, leading to some caustic observations by that gentleman on female honesty (or lack thereof). However, he kept himself composed enough to support his friend in his scheme of feigning madness, and invited Foresight to visit Valentine to see if he was inspired rather than insane, which Foresight agreed to do. Mrs Frail stayed on stage to speak to Ben, who was arriving just at that moment – how convenient.
Ben had met his father just before, and told him that he wouldn’t marry Prue, which made the older man even angrier, declaring that he would marry again himself. Mrs Frail was quick to spot an opportunity, and used Ben’s disobedience to his father as an excuse not to marry him. Ben soon picked up on the real reason for her change of heart – lack of funds – and repudiated her in turn. After Ben left, Mrs Foresight came on stage, and being informed of her sister’s new intention to seduce Sir Sampson, suggested a different path. Believing in Valentine’s madness, and supported by Jeremy’s conniving, she proposed bringing Mrs Frail in to see Valentine and passing her off as Angelica. Valentine was apparently too far gone to tell the difference, so Mrs Frail could marry him and get the benefit of his father’s fortune – sorted!
Naturally, this was all a plot by Jeremy and Scandal, with Valentine’s assistance. I missed some of Valentine’s next mad scene as there was someone standing in front of me for a short while, but I had a good view of Mrs Frail’s impersonation of Angelica. Basically, she held her fan in front of her face as much as possible said as little as possible, and Valentine arranged to marry her in two hours. But they were to be disguised, he as a monk and she as a nun, so they wouldn’t see each other’s faces till the ceremony was complete. She was thrilled at her good fortune.
Tattle and Angelica arrived to join the crowd. Tattle was trying to woo Angelica for himself, now that she had so clearly rejected Valentine, and Scandal hit on the idea of getting Tattle to marry Mrs Frail. There was a short section where the action froze, allowing for a number of asides, but I’m not sure exactly when that was. There were a lot of people on stage, and lots going on in terms of the plotting, but it came across pretty clearly, and with most of the arrangements made for the fake wedding, we were treated to another song, this time by a male singer who used his falsetto voice – lovely.
When the song was over, most of the characters left the stage to Angelica, Valentine and Scandal. Scandal soon left the other two alone, and Valentine was able to drop the mad act and woo Angelica as honestly as he could. He admitted to trying to keep his inheritance to make himself more attractive as a husband, but she dismissed this as a purely mercenary motive. Jeremy turned up, and not being fully aware of the situation, continued to assert that Valentine was mad, even when Valentine told him not to. At this point, the cuckoo sound was clearly getting on his nerves, because Valentine took a stick and shot upwards, cutting the sound off and causing a dead bird to fall down onto the stage – very funny. When Jeremy went off to see who was at the door, Valentine threw a pillow at him and scored a hit, which led to laughter and applause. Jenny came in to give Angelica the news that Sir Sampson would see her presently, and brought the pillow back in. Before she left Valentine, Angelica made some very sensible comments about uncertainty and security, leaving him with two observations: “I am not the fool you take me for; and you are mad and don’t know it”, both of which were spot on.
A choir of six women covered the scene change, repeating the closing lines of the act in song. Act 5 started in Foresight’s house – crocodile down again. Angelica met with Sir Sampson, who was putting his plan to marry again into immediate effect by wooing none other than Angelica herself. She was flirting with him, and giving him encouragement. When he declared his age to be “fifty” there was much laughter, though Angelica herself managed to remain fairly composed. When she raised the subject of marriage herself, wanting his advice on how to find a suitable match, he took the opportunity to propose to her and she had to fend him off – not too difficult, given the twinges he had suffered when going down on one knee; a peal of bells accompanied this bit. She suggested that they pretend to marry in order to expose Valentine’s pretence of madness, and when Sir Sampson mentioned that he had an escape clause in the bond which he wanted Valentine to sign which would allow him to keep the money for himself and any future heirs, she saw a chance to resolve the problems and get Valentine for herself. She told Sir Sampson to bring her the bond, so that her lawyers could look it over, and he willingly agreed.
Tattle and Jeremy came on next. Jeremy explained to Tattle that Angelica was going to marry Valentine, in their disguises as nun and monk, and that he, Tattle, could slip in first in a similar disguise and marry her instead. He was delighted with this idea, and when Prue came on stage a few moments later, eager to be his wife, he had to fob her off in the same way that Mrs Frail had ditched Ben. Prue wasn’t so easy to shake off though, as she was very keen on her man. Her father, Foresight, joined them, and Tattle spent some time throwing puzzles in their direction before running off to marry, as he thought, Angelica. Prue was so determined to marry that any man would do, even the butler, so Foresight sent her off to her room to be kept under lock and key.
Scandal and Mrs Foresight arrived, shortly followed by Ben who informed the company that Sir Sampson and Angelica were going to be married. A panel showing a church appeared at the back, and Sir Sampson, Angelica and Mr Buckram came on. There was some concern amongst the others about this match, but Sir Sampson carried it all off with his usual swagger, even calling Mrs Foresight his aunt – she nearly fainted! Tattle and Mrs Frail also joined them, having discovered that they were now married to each other, and after some commiserations and advice from the rest of the group, they were joined for the final scene by Valentine himself. After confessing his madness had been a trick, he first reassured himself that Angelica was indeed going to marry his father – her reply was ambiguous, but he took it as confirmation – and then went over to the lawyer to sign the deed. Without Angelica it was pointless to be concerned about the money – he had only wanted it for her sake anyway.
This act on his part was what she had been waiting to see. When Valentine asked where the bond was, she declared that she had it, and then she took it out and tore it up. She gave Valentine her hand, explaining that she had been testing his character, and he had finally passed the test. Sir Sampson was outraged at this turn of events, especially as Angelica was highly critical of his unforgiving nature, and as he stormed off the stage he tore down the white curtains at the back. A bucket had been strategically placed by the left rear entrance and got a good kick as he went past, and after a moment’s pause we heard the snarl of a cat off stage – laughter.
With Valentine and Angelica happily united, it was time for the final song and dance, with everyone joining in (on stage, that is). The play wasn’t quite over though, as there were still some lines to come. Scandal thanked Angelica for showing him that some women could choose their husbands intelligently, while she responded by criticising the general lack of constancy in men. She gave the final couplet: “The miracle today is, that we find a lover true; not that a woman’s kind”, a fitting finish after her opening prologue. The final bows were in keeping with the production, and we gave them masses of applause for a very enjoyable evening.
I’ve made good use of the text in writing these notes: I didn’t follow the dialogue quite as fully as it might seem here, especially in terms of the characters’ names, but I did get the gist and the staging details are as noted. The performances were all excellent, and as usual it was great fun to see the actors play such different roles from the Queen Anne production. It was Selina Cadell’s directorial debut for the RSC, and we both hope it won’t be her last. Another viewing is a must, over and above the understudy run tomorrow, which we’re looking forward to immensely.
© 2015 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me
I saw NT “in waiting” at the Old Vic in 1965. There’s something about Congreve’s style. Except for The Way Of the World, I don’t find his dialogue memorable or quotable. Thus I remember that the cast included Sir Laurence Oliver (Tattle) and Lynne Redgrave (Miss Pru).
I take your point about Congreve’s dialogue. If I get the chance, I’d love to ask the actors how easy/difficult it was to learn. I’m envious of anyone who has seen Sir Larry on stage – thanks for mentioning it. Keep the nun flying!