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.
The 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.
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