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Orange Tree Theatre

The False Servant
La fausse suivant
4.0Reviewer's rating

This is a comedy with a sting.  Love is stripped of sentiments. Greed for money dominates other considerations, regardless of class or standing in society. Male aristocrats are unmasked to expose shameless disdain for morality and obsession with money for all to observe. Although this play was first staged nearly 300 years ago (1724), the themes reverberate in our own times. Paul Miller’s delightful production with some superb performances unravels this knotted plot and brings out the pronounced humour and wit.

The heroine is a young woman in charge of her fortune and her actions. She cross-dresses as a chevalier for the sole purpose to find out the true intentions and character of Lélio, (Julian Moore-Cook), her future husband. They have never met before. He is an aristocrat by birth, albeit an impoverished one, and she, one can assume from reading between the lines, is a minor aristocrat, whose family acquired their social status through wealth. She befriends him and gets a great deal more than what she bargained for.

The plot is intricate due to the multiple masks worn by the unnamed heroine who is referred to as the chevalier. The play’s title introduces her/him as ‘the false servant’. The cross-dressing and the reference to her as “him” throughout the play, offer one aspect of the vertiginous game of masks. Lizzy Watts interestingly conveys the young, yet savvy chevalier. She never reveals herself and remains inscrutable throughout.

Once she finds out Lélio’s villainous intentions, she moves on, without a blink of an eyelid, to devise calculated revenge with a twist of cruelty. This production slightly tweaked the original ending, offering the heroine a different moral platform. Watts’s petite physical build contrasts with her vertiginous role. She has the appearance of ‘you can trust me’ lads, a mannerism that is disarming and which secures the field for plausible manipulation. Lélio is duped by the charming chevalier and opens his heart to him. He talks to him about his new conquest, a rich but very naïve countess (Phoebe Pryce), with whom he has a marriage contract and that his interest in her is purely financial – he owes her a great deal of money but if she withdraws from the marriage contract, his debt will be written off. Once Lélio hears that the chevalier knows “la demoiselle de Paris” who has twice as much money as the countess, he is desperate to avoid the marriage contract with the countess but is also desperate to write off his financial debt to her.

A cunning plan to get the countess to break the agreement is proposed by the chevalier, who has his own agenda – revenge and a great deal more.  The chevalier has an accomplice, Trivelin, superbly performed by Will Brown. Brown’s Trivelin is a delightful mischief-maker, a satirist with a twinkle in his eye.  He is an unapologetically degenerate individual, who unashamedly humours his victims for whatever cash he can squeeze out of them. Like his shapeless outfit, he has no fixed identity, yet he is driven by his wits – to survive and thrive.

The overall performance is very good and Martin Crimp’s translation retains much of the humour and wit of the original text (this reviewer’s French companion, familiar with Marivaux’s works was very impressed by the translation).

The set design by Simon Daw is simple but meaningful and effective. A hexagonal canopy with flowers and drawing on the floor of what looks like a maze within a polygonal frame. It may have something to do with the many angled forms of exposing feelings, intentions and deceptions.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable production of a fascinating play.

  • Drama
  • By Pierre Marivaux
  • Translated by Martin Crimp
  • Director: Paul Miller
  • photographer The Other Richard
  • Cast includes: Uzair Bhatti, Will Brown, Julian Moore-Cook, Phoebe Pryce, Lizzy Watts, Silas Wyatt-Barke
  • Orange Tree Theatre
  • Until: 23 July 2022
  • Running time: 2 hours including one interval

About The Author

Executive Director

Rivka Jacobson, founder of Passion for theatre and years spent defending immigrants and asylum seekers in UK courts fuelled her determination to establish a platform for international theatre reviews. Rivka’s aim is to provide people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and indeed all countries with opportunities to see and review a diverse range of shows and productions. She is particularly keen to encourage young critics to engage with all aspects of theatre. She hopes to nurture understanding and tolerance across different cultures through the performing arts.

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