Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Review The Lottery Of Love

The Lottery Of Love
by Pierre Marivaux
Translated by John Fowles

Love In The Dock

Marivaux is a lesser-known literary figure this side of the Channel. Even if his sentimental novel La Vie De Marianne had an influence on the development of the novel in England and he wrote more than 30 plays, many of which broke the mould in 18th century France.

The Orange Tree is now presenting the world premiere of John Fowles's 1984 translation of the French playwright's best known play, written in 1730,  Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard, renamed in Fowles's version The Lottery Of Love.

Fowles transferred the story of a somewhat reluctant would-be man and wife foiled by their own ruses to Jane Austen's England where indeed a lottery for money, as well as literary trials' and tribulations" for prospective marriage partners, also flourished.  

For Marivaux, life and money had been somewhat of a lottery, his wife's dowry lost in a disastrous investment in the New World, then her early death after childbirth.

The Lottery Of Love deals with life's viccissitudes, cruelty and economics under a sophisticated veneer of  social comedy centring on Sylvia  (Dorothea Myer-Bennett), an independent-minded young woman who fears the marital alliance her father has arranged.

On hearing her prospective husband Richard is coming to visit her for the first time, and with the agreement of her father, she and her maid servant Louisa (Claire Lams) swap roles  to view and put on probation the future spouse's qualities (Ashley Zhangazha).

However it turns out, she herself will be a victim of her suitor's similar ruse. While both of them become the playthings, albeit in benevolent interests, of the inside epistolary dealings of her father (Pip Donaghy) and naval officer brother Martin (Tam Williams), with out-of-sight Richard's father. 

Le Jeu de L'Amour et du Hasard was revolutionary in not setting up two united lovers against the world overcoming obstacles.

It starts from a woman alone reversing social norms, saying no to any marriage unless she feels secure with a husband who will cherish her. In fact, sbe almost adopts the forensic probing of a prosecution lawyer in her reasoning.

In director Paul Miller's delicate confection, the cast conduct an intricate verbal minuet where multiple disguises and a farcical comedy of manners collide. Designer Simon Daw keeps it simple with single upside down roses and gently flashing tea lights suspended from the ceiling above the in-the-round stage.

There's symmetry but also violent disruption in The Lottery Of Love and we couldn't help remembering that by the end of the same century it was written, France itself was riven by a violent revolution. There's plenty to cherish in this handsome version of Marivaux's play but much of the underlying violence and cruelty feels sucked out of it.

Maybe it's because the Orange Tree Theatre space itself doesn't lend itself to French farce's slamming doors as the two lovers disguised as their own servants (there, we've given it away!) enter and exit.

Even so Myer-Bennett does have a touching vulnerability along with a blue-stocking control of her vocabulary. Zhangazha also shines as a deliberately slightly stolid but good-hearted suitor and master who finds his disguise more punishing and painful than he first expected. 

Fowles goes through the literary houses in his translation flirting with Shakespearean comedies, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals and even inserting a touch of Dickens in his characterisation of valet John Brass (Keir Charles).

It's a delightful, very pretty production but we felt the darkness lurking beneath was a little too lightly mined. Mind you, this version does have the insurance of Sylvia's brother Martin's brooding, caddish presence, if not absolute actions, of a villain in the shape of slightly dishevelled Tam Williams.

At the same time, its flurry of love, chance, misunderstandings and trickery with a happy ending for master, mistress and servants does work its magic and we give it a mixed posy of amber/green

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