The Game of Love & Chance
by Pierre Marivaux
Translated by Neil Bartlett
A Salisbury Playhouse Production
Directed by Philip Wilson
Salisbury Playhouse, 7 April 2011
Mr Prowde: Stephen Critchlow
Silvia (his daughter): Hattie Ladbury
Maurice (his son): Glyn Kerslake
Lisette (maidservant): Jo Herbert
Mr Dorant (suitor): Tom Davey
Arlecchino (his chauffeur): Antonio Magro
For pictures see Salisbury Playhouse Photostream
This is another fine Salisbury production. Last year, I saw two versions of Private Lives in quick succession at Salisbury and Bath. I thought Salisbury’s production better than Bath’s all-star version. The set and costumes for The Game of Love and Chance were superb. The play follows a recent trend for translations of French classics, with the high-profile 2010 productions of La Bete (well, a modern pastiche of Moliére) and The Misanthrope. Neil Bartlett’s translation dates back to 1992, and is a modern version with free translation. The Marivaux original was written in 1730.
The play centres on the upper class Sylvia. Her father has determined to marry her off and is seeking a suitor, Dorant, the son of an old friend. In order to examine Dorant more closely. Slyvia decides to swop roles and costumes with her maid, Lisette. Unknown to them (but to her father and brother), Dorant has decided on exactly the same ploy, swapping places with his Italian chauffeur, Arlecchino. This sets the scene for a play about love, sex and social class. Sounds familiar? Apparently Oliver Goldsmith was influenced by Marivaux’s play when he wrote She Stoops To Conquer (1773).
Hattie Ladbury (Sylvia dressed as maid) and Tom Davey as Dorant (dressed as chauffeur)
The casting of the women is perfect. Hattie Ladbury has the naturally aristocratic profile, while Jo Herbert is the perky, cheeky, sexy maid. Her mobile mouth is used to hilarious effect in her expressions. Both had their air of being irreplaceable in the part which great performances give. Tom Davey is a suitably passionate Dorant. The father and brother are seamlessly excellent.
Three of us went to see it. I was a definite nine out of ten. Both my companions had reservations, which were centred on the portrayal of Arlecchino, the chauffeur. We discussed it and decided he was TOO funny. That is, he had a funny costume, funny expressions, contorted funny stance, a funny walk, a funny accent, and funny lines. Italian can be a funny language. It is here. This tends to stop people actually laughing, as every second was over-the-top hilarious.The portrayal needed to be pulled back from time to time, to allow it to explode into hilarity rather than being at a constant flat-out level of hilarity. Let’s not go into the fact that he was 95% Italian accent and yet was supposed to fool people into thinking he wasn’t. Then again, dad and brother already knew about the switch of roles. I don’t know the original but I know Marivaux was associated with Italian elements in theatre, and the 1730 production was by the Comédie Italienne company, so I assume the “Italian clown” goes all the way back to the 1730s. Arlecchino is Italian for Harlequin (Arlequin in French in the original play), and the traditional role of Harlequin was as the servant to a man in love. It was a brilliant performance by Antonio Magro, but it steamrollered everything else while it was happening. It’s hard but sometimes your funniest character has to pull back enough to let the scene carry itself.
I loved the constant “knowing” lines, such as “This is a farce!” followed by both actors doing a double-take, and the way, in 18th century style, Sylvia and Dorant were able to address the audience directly with asides. The two scenes of high speed chasing up and down stairs to music are true farce, with a touch of Benny Hill. This was only a week in. It needs tightening a tad on timing. It’ll happen.
Musical quotes and commentaries were apposite and funny (with Glyn Kerslake on piano and vocal). My companions criticised length. I agree that you could usefully shave five to ten minutes with a preçis on the wordier bits … Sylvia has a LOT to say (though there are knowing asides about the length too).
Jo Herbert as Lisette
My regular smoking on stage slot: Definitely gratuitous. I could see two or three places where it helped character, and probably five where it was irrelevant. Having Jo Herbert as Lisette run up and down stairs fast twice with a lighted cigarette clasped in her mouth gets “gratuitous and unfair to actor” award of the year.