A comedy of bedside manners
THEATRE The Relapse The Swan, Stratford
Saturday 22 April 1995
Judge's bedside manner, so to speak, is sly and intelligent from the outset. Instead of coming on to the stage reading as Vanburgh's text specifies, Hugh Quarshie's Loveless extols the philosophy that says "Our heaven is seated in our minds!" while lying half-naked between the sheets. For all its square-jawed demonstrativeness, he sounds so unconvinced about "the warm pleasing fire of lawful love" that when a female head emerges from under the covers, you assume it must belong to a mistress. It's actually the property of his wife, Amanda, but the staging has a droll anticipatory effect, popping into your mind what is clearly on his.
The production uses a thrust stage to establish a teasing complicity between the audience and the witty, silkily seductive reprobates on stage. Nowhere is this more the case than with Susan Tracy's superb Berinthia, the youngish widow who gets back in league with a former lover so that they can be of mutual assistance in seducing Loveless and wife. With her conspiratorially arch looks and radiant, gracious smiles, she defies the audience not to find her the winning face of cynical worldliness. "But now what shall I do with myself!" she soliloquises, tossing her head in a beautifully bogus display of girlish bemusement, as though she weren't counting on Loveless to steal into her chamber at any moment and offer her the chance to put up some token resistance.
In her supreme self-assurance, if in nothing else, Berinthia has affinities with Lord Foppington, the sublimely narcissistic new peer and the dominant figure in the play's other plot. Resplendent in a wig that resembles an unfortunate cross between a rug run rampant and terrorist topiary, Victor Spinetti's hilarious Foppington somehow manages to remain cocooned in a madly misplaced sense of his own dignity even when a misunderstanding forces him to enter mud-spattered and on all fours. "I do use to appear a little more dgag," he explains, false eyelashes fluttering on either side of Spinetti's ski-jump nose.
As Hoyden, the daughter in the rich country bumpkin family he wants to marry into, excellent Lorraine Ashbourne would make Gracie Fields look like Edith Evans in the drawing-room deportment department. But what she and Christopher Benjamin as her father valuably bring out is the way these characters tend to get the better of the people who take them for fools. Indeed, it's a very well-cast show, even if, amusingly, the nurse, whose anecdotes about what it was like to breast-feed Hoyden are an embarrassment to the girl, here sports a plastic cleavage.
n Box-office: 01789-295 623
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: The most extreme fan reactions on Twitter
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling