The Relapse, Commandery Players at Ansty

WHEN the Puritans lost power and the Restoration was in full swing, there was an almost audible sigh of relief, and the arty types took every advantage of the chance to explore the limits of the new permissiveness.

Among them was the multi-talented John Vanbrugh, who wrote two original plays (one to save the struggling Theatre Royal Drury Lane from bankruptcy) and many classical adaptations, and went on to a famous career as an architect.

The Commandery Players, the summer disguise of Tisbury Arts Group, has chosen The Relapse for the 2019 production directed by Michael Whitaker and performed in the Ansty tithe barn that is now the company’s home.

On the wet, cold opening night the scene was set not only by a buxom orange seller but an industrial heater, pumping out its benison on the shivering audience.

It soon gave way to the performers, festooned in magnificent costumes and bewigged to distraction. Assistant director Steve Whittingham’s unctuously phrased and preening peacock of a Foppington magnetised attention – how could he not with a wig like that? (by courtesy of Notting­ham Opera).

Dave Milas and Liz Coyle Camp promised and were betrayed with choreographic chutzpah, with Nichola Gee scheming as the Scots strumpet, Christian Allsop blustering charmingly as Tom, and Sara Nicholls just panting to get laid.

As always, Commandery Players can depend on a large cast making the most of the supporting roles.

The Relapse was first seen on the London stage in 1696, and was a smash hit with the audiences. Its two plots follow the fortunes of the adulterous Mr Loveless and the vainglorious Lord Fopp­ing­ton.

Loveless has a devoted wife to whom he vows eternal fidelity … until he sees a beauty at the theatre who turns out to be his wife’s Scottish cousin, invited to stay for the season.

The creepy Sir Novelty Fashion has purchased a peerage, and now that he’s Lord Foppington he fancies himself irresistible to women. His only interest is his clothes and wigs, and enough looking glasses to see himself in the round. When his impecunious (and much more attractive) younger brother Tom Fashion arrives back from abroad to touch him for funds, he really couldn’t give a toss of his elaborate periwig.

The new lord is about to marry a wealthy heiress, Hoyden Clumsy, who makes up for her inexperience with a terrifying eagerness to learn.  And brother Tom has his own ideas about her tuition.

At the same time Loveless is so concentrated on seducing his cousin-in-law that he doesn’t notice that his wife Amanda is stirring the interest of the beaux about town.

In this early day Les Liaisons Dangereuses, almost a century before Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel, the ending feeds the fire of the body rather than the peace of the soul.

There may be a couple of seats left for the rest of the run, until Saturday 15th June.


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