The Fantastic Follies Of Mrs Rich
The Swan Theatre
JUST as there is no play so good that bad acting and direction cannot ruin it, there is also no play so poor that good actors and directors cannot make successful.
This latter observation is borne out by the RSC unearthed, run-of-the-mill play from the late Restoration genre.
Mary Pix was one of the dozen or so “female wits” who, following the success of Aphra Behn, emerged to challenge their male competitors and help fill the voracious appetite of London’s two main late 17th century theatres with virtually interchangeable plays featuring stock plots, characters and themes.
Despite the occasional telling aside — “The city is famous for crooks” — there are no Congrevean subtleties or witty linguistic duels here and director Jo Davies treats the play with ebullient energy for what it is, a delightful pantomime.
Mrs Rich, the wealthy widow of a city banker, craves to be accepted into the beau monde — “I will be a countess, cost what it will.” Consequently she is a ready gull for tricksters who can play off her pretensions.
Pix displays a practised skill in handling the regular pack of Restoration types, the affected prancing beau, the buffoonish country bumpkin, including his dogs, the scheming servants and, in an interwoven subplot, a conventional variant on the frustrated lovers playing out the eventual triumph of the marriage between virtue and honesty.
But here, it is not the play’s the thing but the production.
Grant Olding’s music, delivered by a female periwigged saxophonist quartet complements Davies’s direction bursting with energy and colour.
Although it is unfair to single out performances from a universally splendid cast obviously enjoying every moment as much as their hugely appreciative audience, Sophie Stanton’s Mrs Rich carries the show with her overflowing monomania.
Running alongside this season’s blood-drenched Duchess of Malfi and an uneven Macbeth, the Stratford theatre box office can afford a sigh of relief.
Plays in repertoire until June 14. Box office rsc.org.uk
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