Theatre: Two ways to kill a marriage

The Ice House; The Relapse,

Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow

Offering a peculiarly opaque new twist on the classic eternal-triangle drama, The Ice House - writer/director Robert David MacDonald's 16th play for the Citizens' Theatre - last week opened a nine-production spring season at the renowned Gorbals space(s), newly refurbished courtesy of the National Lottery.

Over a seemingly endless - yet apparently inefficacious - succession of Martinis and Manhattans, arty academic Brian and his glamorously bitchy wife, Helier, attempt to divert themselves by conducting their marital games through Brian's newly hired male secretary, the enigmatically alluring Rod. Only gradually does it dawn on them that the tables are being expertly turned, by a manipulator even more skilled and amoral than themselves.

With its eponymous, puzzling, central symbol - the recurrent image of "ice sitting underground, waiting to melt" seems to promise resonance without delivering - it's an obscurely dislocated piece, both temporally, with its Twenties-style touches in dress and design, alongside contemporary allusions and colloquialisms; and contextually, offering no sense of any wider world beyond the trio's menage.

Highly mannered in style, but with a disconcertingly vulgar undercurrent of innuendo, MacDonald's dialogue shuffles fragmented references to classical philosophy and aesthetic theory with barbed, thinly veiled flirtation, duplicitous power-games and the odd bloodthirsty orgasmic fantasy.

All three characters' motivations - beyond the inclination to seduce, while keeping one up on the other two - remain essentially obscure, though seemingly malign, adding further to the sense of events unfolding somewhat pointlessly in a vacuum. The eventual outbreak of overt hostilities results in an abruptly hatched murder plot, leading to an ending simultaneously reminiscent of Hamlet and Agatha Christie. Maybe it's just trying to be too clever for its own good, but it comes over as a pretty empty exercise.

Taking the main-house stage a couple of nights later, Philip Prowse's production of John Vanbrugh's sardonic marital-discord drama The Relapse (aka Virtue in Danger), just over two centuries on from its premiere, displays all the poise, panache and pantomime bounce which one looks for in a Restoration comedy.

A slightly fuller sense of its substance, however, might have resulted had the Citizens' characteristically minimal programme notes included a little more basic background: the play was written as a deliberately cynical sequel/commentary to another play of the period, Colley Cibber's Love's Last Shift, at the end of which errant husband Loveless is reconciled with his staunchly loyal and virtuous wife, Amanda. His is the "relapse" which is in question here, his supposed determination to reform - passionately declared to Amanda at the outset - evaporating virtually the moment he's tempted by another illicit amour.

Awareness of this context darkens Vanbrugh's satire by several notches, balancing and rounding out the burlesque as Amanda's steadfast chastity is gradually weakened, both by her husband's neglect and the corrupting inducements of London high society.

This omission aside, however, Prowse's sumptuous yet elegant design, and the bold visual flair of his direction, frame a set of performances as fluently drilled as they're intensively detailed. Plenty of swagger and pace combine with memorably vivid character portraits, throughout both central narrative and sub-plot, the latter concerning an impoverished younger son's plot to step into his foppish brother's intended - and highly lucrative - marital shoes.

Themes of innocence versus sophistication, morality versus compromise and romance versus reality intertwine gracefully, as lascivious vulgarity vies with polished politesse. Jack Klaff puts in a splendidly camp turn as the aforementioned elder brother, Lord Foppington, enunciating Vanbrugh's richly double-edged prose in an accent fruity enough to give Kenneth Williams a run for his money, while Murray Melvin plays the shamelessly lecherous matchmaker Coupler with hilarious relish.

Yolanda Vasquez and Trevyn McDowell present a subtly judged contrast in the two female leads, Amanda and her worldly cousin (also Loveless's paramour) Berinthia, with Paul Albertson striking a compellingly acerbic note as the drunken servant/wise fool Lory.

Altogether a highly entertaining and dashingly executed revival, even if it does benefit from having its harsher accents picked out.

Until 31 January (0141 429 0022)

Sue Wilson

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

    £32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot