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
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam