Love for Love, BOVTS at Bristol Old Vic

1169-437_LoveForLove_SMALL_creditGrahamBurkeWilliam Congreve wrote only five plays, the best known of which was the last, The Way of the World.

Love for Love, written in  1695 and famous for the line “O fie, miss, you must not kiss and tell”, is a complicated story of sexual encounters and true love which students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School are performing by candlelight on  stage at the Old Vic in King Street.

The unmarried Congreve was fam­ous for his friendships with various actresses and high-born ladies, and his plays abound with what were then radical portraits of women. Love for Love has four of them,  (or five if you count the hilarious Nurse brought to life by the bearded Ryan McKen). There’s the determined and intelligent Angelica, the frustrated and manipulative Mrs Foresight, her sister the unmarried Mrs Frail and the innocent Miss Prue.

Sir Sampson Legend has two sons, one (Valentine) a lovelorn wastrel who has squan­dered his allowance, and the other (Ben) a seafaring boyo who calls a rowlock a rowlock. In the way of parents, Sir Sampson plays them off against each other, but his own vanity gets the better of him.

1_LoveForLove_SMALL_creditGrahamBurkeThe play is a classic Restoration romp and Jenny Stephens’ production is true to the original. The auditorium itself, built almost 100 years after the play was first performed, is perfect for the project. With set designer Lizzy Leech and move­ment director Jonathan How­ell, Jenny has created a marvellous opportunity for the audience to step back in theatrical time.

Her talented cast of graduating actors has seized the chance with gusto, endowing this surpris­ing­ly modern play with energy and hum­ourous passion. Congreve’s rakes and their mistresses, sly servants, grasping lawyers, pompous fools, hypocrites and ladies-in-denial are timeless in all but costume and movement.

There are some fine performances from this group, which recently performed an unforgettable The Heresy of Love for the same director. Look out for Dominic Allen, whose crotchety would-be astronomer is a joy. Sam Woolf makes Tattle a frighteningly recognisable character – just think what he would have done on Faceburke.

Timothy Innes is the louche Valen­tine, whose feigned madness is one of the play’s highlights.

1169-012_LoveForLove_SMALL_creditGrahamBurkeAmy Barnes and Rosie Nicholls are beautifully matched as Mrs Fore­sight and her sister, scheming to get men into bed or into marriage.

This is an ensemble piece, and everyone involved should be congratulated for transporting the audience back to the glory days of the Restoration.

It’s on until 27th June.


Photographs by Graham Burke

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