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|A CurtainUp Review
By Sue Krisman
Every time I walk the last couple of hundred yards along the Thames Embankment on the way to a show at the National Theatre in London , the word "privileged" always springs to mind. Never mind that it is a pain to get to, once you are sitting in any of the three theatres, you just know that what you are about to receive will be truly theatrical.
All the talk about modern theatre being too concerned with sex is shown up as nonsense with this "Restoration" romp hat is based solely on the pursuit of married women. (Ed. Note: Written in 1681 by Edward Ravenscroft; adapted and directed by Terry Johnson). The premise of the plot is only that of men idly conjecturing amongst themselves about whether a silly or a witty woman is the most likely to be faithful, and proving only that men are easily fooled in the attempt. The base plot reminded me for a moment of that recent play that was so well done - The School for Wives - but this one has more substance and more virility. Not to say more delicious complications. The music of the age, directed and presented by Roderick Skeaping and his merry men kept this delightful play on the boil throughout, though for some reason seemed not to work playing the audience in for so long at the beginning. It only went to distract from the prologue that set the naughty scene.
This is a production which is never silly but always witty. Our handsome hero Ned Ramble, played with enthusiastic panache and fun by Ben Miles, is an inept and unlucky lover who would be glad to ravage anything in petticoats if only he could get his timing right. He falls out of windowns, gets locked into more hiding places than twenty Whitehall Farces and even wonderfully fails to fit under a bed in hot pursuit of some willing temptress. His friend Frank Townley, on the other hand, played with the offhand roughness of Eddy Grundy, crassly prefers a glass of ale to a woman any day but always seems to slip into the very bed his dear friend Ned is panting to get into.
The dialogue zings and stings -- "what used to be called pimping nowadays is called doing a friend a favour." There is the lovely scene when a bored wife allows her elderly husband to bind her to a promise to say only "no" to anything. She agrees. But encourages the men to ask the right questions for her vehement "no!" This gives the excellent Caroline Quentin a chance for her skills although generally I didn't think this was a great enough part for her. The young and "silly" bride, Peggy is, on the other hand, a gift of a lusty part to the right young actress.Kelly Reilly runs away with the whole joy of ignorance and innocence wrapped up in beautiful silks. Her final subjugation was the only jarring note of the play -- her future life not a pretty thing.
But London Cuckolds is charming Please take anyone to see this who thinks that if it's old it has to be stuffy. It's a play that reflects the seventeenth century in which it was written whilst mirroring our own in which it is played and sends both of them up rotten.