I have to confess that I'm not the greatest lover of Restoration comedy. All that witless foppery and forced farce is usually liable to leave me cold. Which makes it all the more enjoyable when one happens upon a production of [William] Congreve that genuinely warms the heart.
Selina Cadell's new version of Love for Love for the RSC in Stratford is exactly that: a riotous romp that has no pretensions to grandeur but delivers a thoroughly entertaining evening, with laughs aplenty and strong performances across the board.
Everyone involved is clearly having a ball, from comedy percussionist Kevin Waterman to the poor unfortunate stage hands who get literally upended in the fast and furious melee. No opportunity for a laugh is left unexplored. Sight gags rub along happily with witty wordplay, interaction with the audience competes comically with double-takes and double entendres. The result is a blast from start to finish.
Congreve's play is a typically convoluted warren of subterfuge, mistaken identities and devious plots, woven together almost incomprehensibly until the unlikely final-act resolution ties things up in a neat bow. Any attempt at synopsis would be pretty much futile: suffice it to say that you just need to go with the flow and enjoy the fun.
That, after all, is what the cast are evidently doing. Led ostensibly by Nicholas Le Prevost as an ageing father wrangling over his legacy to two dissolute sons, there's not a weak link in the entire ensemble. Tom Turner puts in a wonderfully appealing performance as the elder brother Valentine, at turns a scheming fraudster and a lovesick puppy. He's equally adept at both.
Daniel Easton makes a hilarious stereotypical sailor as the younger brother Ben, all sea shanties and piratical egomania, while Jonathan Broadbent threatens to steal the show as a thoroughly modern fop, with an extraordinary dyed-blonde quiff standing up on his head.
The design sits a little uneasily in the overall mix, with Rosalind Ebbutt's costumes a curious conjunction of 17th Century styles with 21st Century colours and materials, while Tom Piper's set design is simple but effective - although the stuffed crocodile promises more than it delivers.
Eliza Thompson supplies nicely authentic music for harpsichord and assorted period instruments, and Cadell has a keen eye for comic business, allowing her actors to mine their characters for maximum impact. With a twinkle in their eyes and a smile never far from their lips, it's tempting to imagine that the company is having even more fun than the audience.
Running time: 3 hours, 5 minutes
Love for Love runs at The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until 22 January 2016.