theatre : Love for Love, Hampstead

REVIEWS Paul Taylor on a stylistically challenged revival of Congreve

With VE and VJ Day safely commemorated, Journeyman Productions now draw our attention to another of this year's anniversaries. It is 300 years, they remind us, since the premiere of Congreve's comedy Love for Love, which opened Lincoln's Inn Theatre in 1695. Director Jon Harris marks the occasion with a production that just about makes up in humour and spirit what it clearly lacks in budget and finesse.

Fielding a number of fine performances, this revival manages to survive the unevenness of the casting, its bleak, poverty-stricken demeanour, and the fact that the New End Theatre, with its steep single-rake and its small black box of a stage, puts audience and play in an awkward social relationship. As stagings of Restoration comedy at the Orange Tree and the Swan have shown, this style of drama can benefit (by having the human reality behind its artifice heightened) from the intimacy afforded by in-the-round and thrust stages.

But at the New End, physical proximity doesn't bring any corresponding sense of conspiratorial closeness. The scaling of the performances thus becomes a problem and one that is compounded here since the production makes a heavy interpretative point of journeying from one stylistic extreme to the other. It begins at a screamingly high pitch, with mounds of maquillage and elaborate wigs, and with egregious campery from Joss Brook's Scandal and Robert Goodale's Tattle. By the end, their public disguises gradually peeled away, the cast have reverted to sober black (not a wig or a beauty spot in sight), even if the evening closes as it opens with freeze-frames of exaggerated social attitudinising.

The right level is, however, found by some of the actors. Tracy Ann Oberman gives a particularly well-judged performance, radiating amused and resourceful intelligence as Angelica, the young heiress who puts her debt-ridden suitor, Valentine, on a long probation until he can prove he's not just after her fortune. Playing this dashing ex-wastrel, Neil Roberts rightly lets you see the unsympathetic side of him at the start, not softening, for example, his peevish irritation when a nurse turns up at his door with one of his bastards. But then the stunt of feigning madness in order to avoid signing over his property and his conceited father's unedifying behaviour seem to bring out a deeper person in this Valentine who, by the end, looks not unworthy of Angelica.

The cast don't always seem to be acting in the same production, but there are some extremely enjoyable characterisations, particularly that of Jean- Benoit Blanc as Valentine's blunt sailor brother, a nautical image-addict whose idea of a chat-up line is "You're a tight vessel and well rigged, an you were as well mann'd". Arriving in Act 3, he comes as a tonic after all the mincing landlubbers.

Booking: 0171-794 0022

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate