Though one of the most revered texts of English literature, Congreve’s “other” Restoration Comedy is rarely played these days. For that reason alone, and because the production in question does make sense of the play and work as an evening of theatre and entertainment, it is worth seeing Love for Love at the RSC. The cast is uniformly excellent and works together, as always as a superb ensemble. Nicholas Le Prevost is the perfect foil for all the japes and jollities as Sir Sampson Legend, and Tom Turner manages to make Valentine Legend both suitably rakish and ultimately convincing as a reformed hero, somewhat sleazy at first, and constantly funny and very watchable. Justine Mitchell is a particularly strong and interesting Angelica, a prototype of Mrs Millimant in The Way of the World. She has the measure of how to be both wickedly manipulative and strong-minded, yet also warm and loving; and ultimately the play veers more towards 18th century sense and sensibility than it looks backwards to the licentiousness of the early Restoration comedies of the reign of Charles II. I missed some of the lewdness and slyness that is usually found in the interpretations of the text; but this production has the virtue of clarity and sober presentation of the tale. I liked in particular the Scandal of Robert Cavanah and the Foresight of Michael Thomas as well as the Jeremy of Carl Prekopp. Selina Cadell has made an promising debut as a director at the RSC. If the play piques your interest enough, you might want to know more about the reign in which it was performed, that of William and Mary. Have a look at the book by John Van Der Kriste, William and Mary: The Heroes of the Glorious Revolution.
There is also a terrific biography by Anne Somerset that you might want to read called Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion, published by Harper Press.
Finally, I also highly recommend the novel set in this period by William Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond. It is almost as great a glory of English literature as Vanity Fair by the same author and is most unjustly neglected these days.
- By William Congreve
- Director: Selina Cadell
- Cast Includes: Nicholas LePrevost, Tom Turner, Daniel Easton, Robert Cavanah, Jonathan Broadbent, Justine Mitchell, Zoe Waites, Hermione Gulliford
- Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon- Avon
- Until 22 January 2016
- Review by Mel Cooper
- 17 November 2015