The Surprise of Love by Marivaux is the third in Laurence Boswell’s ambitious opening season of British premières of European classics (all still playing in rep until 23 December). In the 1727 play, originally titled La Seconde Surprise de l’Amour, the young Marquise, recently widowed after just a month of marriage, is resolved merely to lose herself in her grief. Her artful maid, Lisette (a fine comic performance from Frances McNamee), who like so many maids in French comedy understands her mistress and the ways of the world better than she does, wishes to rouse her out of her melancholy. The Marquise is visited by one of her late husband’s friends, the Chevalier (Milo Twomey, excellent), who has been deserted by the love of his life after she has entered a religious retreat. Wallowing in their respective miseries to fine comic effect, they discover a deep mutual respect. With a Count and a pedantic scholar also on the prowl all the elements are in place for an evening of schemes, misunderstandings and self-delusion until finally the characters are surprised by love.
Ti Green’s simple design is beautiful, Boswell’s direction and his cast excellent and Mike Alfreds’ translation witty and tart – “We have to think like men in order to live amongst them” says the Marquise inveighing against the ridiculous concept of honour. This is an enjoyable evening in the theatre, and though the play lacks the brilliance of Marivaux’s masterpieces, it is well worth catching.