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April 2004
The Way Of The World - Review
The Way Of The World
Photo from The Way Of The World

The Way Of The World

13 - 17 April

The Oxford Playhouse

 

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By Mark Young

Do you fancy a trip back to the fashionable London of Restoration England where wealthy young gentlemen drank in "chocolate houses" while trading gossip? If the answer is yes, the Oxford Theatre Guild's production of William Congreve's "The Way of the World" offers a perfect opportunity.

Theatres during the reign of Charles II were filled with new audiences demanding a fresh style of performance and Congreve duly gave them the most celebrated example of "Restoration Comedy", an early attempt at a more intellectual style of humour. When Congreve penned "The Way of the World" in 1700 the majority of London's Elizabethan theatres has closed and with them went the boy actors as women were now allowed to play female roles.

Listen to BBC Oxford's Tim Bearder talking to the director Polly Mountain.

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Director, Polly Mountain, has stamped her authority on this new production with some inspired direction, as although Congreve's prose is superbly crafted, the discourse and plot require skilful interpretation to appeal to a 21st century audience.

Having navigated our way through a minefield of gossip, intrigue and love versus duty, the play comes to life with the interaction between Barbara Denton's Lady Wishfort and Cathy Oakes' Foible. I was reminded of Liz Taylor's performance in the film of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe" as her ladyship cries out "go you thing" to her servant whilst clutching a bottle of cherry brandy! Yes you guessed it, class and social tensions are highlighted throughout and in particular when the rough country squire played by Peter Mottley arrives in trendy London.

I must also mention Jason Tomes who gives the character of Mr Petulant considerable edge exclaiming "if throats are to be cut, let swords clash". I won't spoil it by telling you if throats are cut over the heroine Millimant played by feisty student Tegan Shohet. Simon Vail's Mr Witwoud was also well portrayed if occasionally drawing on the camp humour of John Inman and Julian Clary.

Congreve was described as a master of illustrating feminine psychology but sadly the reaction to this play's morality made it his last. He went on to suffer the irony of being killed by a carriage while in the post of "Commissioner for Licensing Hackney Carriages"!

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