Mostly I have found that neglected masterpieces turn out to be justly neglected; but sometimes not; and the RSC has found one that is most unjustly neglected in John Ford’s intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving play Love’s Sacrifice.
Written for indoor theatres around 1632, well after Shakespeare’s death, and a success in its day, one gathers, this play – with its echoes of the jealousy plot of Othello among other referential plot devices– is sophisticated, clever, witty and gruesome; and deeply moving. It has a real heart and deals with the issues of love, lust mistaken for love, unrequited passion, true friendship and its requirements and betrayal provocatively. It also has a terrific and somewhat unexpected ending.
Add to that mix of virtues a cast that is a superb ensemble group and direction by Matthew Dunster that is brilliant in illuminating the text, and you have an entertaining and thought-provoking experience in the theatre. The play itself is so intelligent that it makes one want to return to John Ford and his masterpieces, especially ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Broken Heart, and re-examine them. Stratford recently did The Witch of Edmonton with great success; and it is good to be reminded that Ford was one of the most important and successful writers of the period of Charles 1. This production shows us why.
Matthew Dunster and some of his cast are new to Stratford and these are all auspicious and exciting debuts. The design by Anna Fleischle is peculiarly evocative and the music by Alexander Balanescu adds real atmosphere and supportive bite to the action. Matthew Neeham is deeply impressive in his range of emotions as the Duke of Pavy and makes his journey through the play with great variety of reaction and movement. Catrin Stewart and Jamie Thomas King are brilliant in their roles and manage to evoke both Romeo and Juliet and Desdemona and Cassio as models at times. The villains, Beth Cordingly as Fiormonda and Jonathan McGuinness as D’Avolos, are convincing and chilling and also, at times, Cordingly is able to evoke remarkable sympathy. One also has to praise Rhiannon Handy, Sheila Atim and Annette McLaughlin as the three women seduced and betrayed by the superficially handsome but thoroughly self-absorbed Andy Apollo as Ferentes; and Matthew Kelly for his hilarious and touching portrayal of Mauruccio.
I have nothing but praise for this production, for all its actors, for the creative team and especially for Matthew Dunster’s exceedingly responsive and intelligent direction. This is a superb theatrical experience. See it if you can and discover not only why the RSC is praiseworthy for the level of its performances and productions, but how good and how justly appreciated in his day John Ford the playwright was.