Lunchtime theatre has been popular in London since the late 1960s but here in East Anglia it’s something of a novelty – though the Southwold summer season has included it for several years. It’s therefore logical that the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds launched its trial week with the short version of a play by Hannah Cowley, one of the woman dramatists of the Georgian period in whose work the playhouse specialises.
A Bold Stroke for a Husband is a social comedy, set in the never-never land of 18th century Spain – think The Duenna by Sheridan – as young Donna Olivia turns down all the suitors her father Don Caesar lines up for her, her friend Donna Victoria tries to regain the love which her husband Don Carlos has transferred to a Portuguese courtesan Donna Laura, and Carlos’ friend Don Julio eventually finds that he can settle into matrimony after all.
Pip Minnithorpe’s adaptation swirls along in scarlet and black to the rumble of guitar and castanets and the stamp of flamenco. It’s great fun and an excellent début for the Little Bear Theatre Company. Emma Bailey’s set is a simple matter of pillars with just a high-backed chair or a garden bench to indicate indoor or exterior location. Amy Humphreys is the feisty Victoria, whisking off her midi skirt to reveal masculine garb as she woos Maya Sondhi’s Laura in the guise of young Florio.
Dan Smith gets most of the laughs as the rejected suitors, playing both Pedro and Garcia at the same time (honestly!). Carlos’ double standards come over sharply in Jonathan Woolf’s characterisation and Tom Radford] is suitably laid-back as Julio. This type of comedy wouldn’t be complete without a manipulating maid, and Karen Elliot gives Minette a lot of gumption. Her mistress, Olivia, is briskly defined by Ursul Early, a true chip off the fatherly block of Christopher Robert’s Don Caesar.