Theatregoers on our Outing last night (20 March 2007) to The Soldiers' Fortune at the Young Vic Theatre were fortunate enough to enjoy a post show Q&A with several members of the cast – including Anne-Marie Duff, David Bamber, Oliver Ford Davies and Alec Newman – and director David Lan, who joined us for an interesting discussion following their evening performance.

The Soldiers' Fortune, which opened at the Young Vic on 22 February 2007 (previews from 16 February), finishes its run on Saturday 24 March 2007, one week earlier than scheduled (it was originally due to continue until 31 March, See News, 20 Mar 2007).

Thomas Otway’s Restoration comedy, set in 1680, revolves around Beaugard and Courtine who, returning empty-handed to London from wars abroad, hit upon a scheme to improve their fortunes involving bored, young, rich trophy wives - who are in turn out to improve their own status.

The Soldiers' Fortune is the third production in the rebuilt Southwark Theatre’s main space - which was closed between July 2004 and October 2006 while undergoing a £12.45 million makeover - following community opera Tobias and the Angel and Christmas show The Enchanted Pig (See News, 5 Jul 2006).

At last night’s Q&A, which was hosted by What’s on Stage Magazine editor Roger Foss, the cast and director talked about coping with complicated sets, the relevance of restoration comedies, and sex and relationships in the 17th Century.

Highlights from the discussion follow…

David Lan on the return of restoration:
It certainly wasn’t planned at all to coincide with the National doing The Man of Mode. As it happened I bumped into Nicholas Hytner (artistic director of the National) sometime ago and we sort of said “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” and we found out we were both doing restoration and said “ah.” But we do have very different approaches.

Lan on keeping to the play’s original setting:
I decided to keep it in period, I guess because I was afraid if we changed it people might not believe that we were really doing the play as Otway wrote it; it seems so surprising that he could write so honestly about the sort of desires that people have but not everybody wants to talk about, so I thought if we modernised it people would think we had changed it from Otway’s original text. He had real insight into emotional and sexual relationships. I like it because it seems to be unusually frank about what it is to be a human being consumed with passion and these very powerful desires. I love the fact that the writer is so honest. You get a sense of incongruity of what you expect from a play like this and how frank it is about sex.

Oliver Ford Davies on his false eye in the show:
It’s a contact lens called a Devil’s Eye. The odd thing is, there’s no black spot at all when it’s in cleaning solution, that only shows up when I put it in my eye, and I can see through it, about 80 percent, but as I don’t wear contact lenses it was an interesting experience. It did take a while to get used to.

On the set and the audience:
David Lan: - Because of the way productions are organised, you’ve got to make decisions about what the designs are going to be like before rehearsals start; I guess in an ideal world we would have had longer to work with the actors before hand and perhaps worked out an easier set.

Oliver Ford Davies: - I have done a lot of work with Sam Walters who runs the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond, which is in the round, and he hates it when visiting directors cut off the back wall. I think in a space like this, which is essentially a theatre in the round, productions do need to be in the round because there is quite a distance from that back wall to the audience on this set.

Alec Newman: - It does sometimes seem to be a long way to travel to the audience. Strangely, when it is a smaller house it can seem easier because you can see exactly where everyone is sitting.

Oliver Ford Davies: - You do have to be careful with the asides if it’s a smaller house, because you have to make sure you’re speaking to people who are sitting there!

David Bamber: - We have had some incredible small houses, though, who have been so responsive.

Oliver Ford Davies and David Bamber on the appeal (or otherwise) of their characters:
Oliver Ford Davies: - I think Davy Dunce is a rather horrible character, but he has this whole speech about how he is so happy to have this virtuous young wife and if he didn’t have this faithful young wife he would have been really bad, so you can’t help but feel sorry for him at some points... the morality wavers a bit.

David Bamber: - But then he is only too happy to blame the “murder” on my character, Jolly Jumble, who might be a pimp but he is just very jolly and doesn’t do anyone any harm!

Anne-Marie Duff on the appeal of the play:
This is a play you just have to grab by the scruff of the neck, because it’s silly, it’s a bit repetitive, and if we’re not really going for it, then nobody else will. But if you perform it with gusto and really go for it, it can be great fun.

- by Caroline Ansdell