Rarely can Restoration comedy have been reworked so beautifully as this production of George Colman and David Garrick's masterpiece, The Clandestine Marriage, first performed at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1766.
Directed by Timothy Sheader and designed by Jessica Curtis, this new Watermill production takes the play - and the audience - out of the "in the round" auditorium in the original mill to four sets in the idyllic landscaped gardens and, at one point, onto the gently flowing waters of the mill stream itself. Conceptually, it is no less than brilliant. As a result, the actors, who all achieve perfect diction, are physically nudged into exhilarating and highly involving performances.
The story centres on the the geriatric Lord Ogleby (superbly played by Sam Dastor) who pulls rank on everyone (except his fire-eating sister Mrs Heidelberg, rendered by Christina Greatrex) as part of his quest to enjoy the last glimmerings of life in his Garden of "perpetual sin and youth". Meanwhile, Ogleby's son - the snivelling, dastardly Sir John Melvil (Alan Westaway) - is endeavouring to extricate himself from his betrothal to the justifiably affronted Miss Sterling (Clare McCarron) whilst maintaining a complicated but advantageous financial pact with her father Mr Sterling (Robert Benfield).
Miss Sterling's anger is intensified by the belief that Sir John intends to replace her in the imminent wedding ceremony with her sister, the angelic Fanny (Jane Cameron), who is already betrothed to the impecunious but desirable Lovewell (Richard Glaves). Poor Fanny gets it all ways, defending her honour against Sir John and being physically molested by her incensed sister in a catfight on the lawn. Right on.
The principals in this Clandestine Marriage are all strong and they are backed up with solid support in the form of Helen Murton as the housemaid, and Nick Caldecott as the Francophile Canton whose obsequious nature is heavily leavened with good humour and charm.
All of the actors seem to relish the dialogue which remains razor sharp despite the passage of time. My favourite one liners? "Person of quality" delivered by the fruity Mrs Heidelberg. "Love - the highest luxury of exalted minds". By which, I think, the octogenarian Lord B was confused, and thinking of something more physical.
Special mention too for Philip Bateman's Baroque music which assists with the dramatic continuity both in terms of the movement of the plot and our own movements around the grounds of the estate. Which reminds me - what a setting! Superb! See this play.
- John Timperley