First Night: Mistress who masters disguise

Triumph Of Love Almeida Theatre, london
Click to follow
The Independent Online
HEROINES WHO go around disguised as men are as common in classical comedy as men who go around disguised as Barbra Streisand are in certain clubs. But few of the former breed are as single minded as Princess Leonide, the central figure in Marivaux's 1732 play The Triumph of Love, revived now in a delightfully witty and beautifully judged production by James Macdonald.

The high curved hedges and sand covered floor of Jeremy Herbert's set evoke the rural retreat of the philosophical Hermocrate and his frumpy sister Leontine, the kind of self-deceivedly high-minded couple to whom the mere mention of the world "love" is anathema.

Since he was smuggled there as a child, this sequestered residence has been the secret home of Agis, the rightful heir to the throne usurped by Leonide's family. Having fallen in love with him from afar, the princess infiltrates the set-up in male disguise. Her ultimate aim is to restore the kingdom to him and to win his love. But as the daughter of his enemies, she can scarcely expect an immediate welcome and so feels the need to approach him via various incognitos.

The funniest aspects of the play arise from the shamelessly disingenuous way in which Leonide persuades the egghead couple to let her stick around long enough to work on the prince. Helen McCrory is compelling and sexy as Leonide, and Colin Stinton gives a deliciously understated performance as the philosopher.

In Martin Srimp's robust translation, Leonide refers to Hermocrate's life as "the cold endless solitary confinement of your philosophy". She coolly dumps him back there when she stalks off with her prince at the end. For some, the Triumph of Love is a distinctly dubious one.