The London publisher Rupert Hart-Davis once wrote that if any play has only been produced twice in three hundred years, there must be some good reason for it! Well, in The Road To Ruin, The Orange Tree have discovered a real gem of a long-forgotten drama, despite having only two UK productions since the early 19th. Century

The Road To Ruin was written four years after the storming of the Bastille and in his prologue (dispensed with in this production) , Thomas Holcroft predicted that the French Revolution would "fertilise a world, and renovate old earth'. Inspired by the ideas of his liberal minded friends William Godwin and Thomas Paine, Holcroft was an unashamed militant atheist and sentimentalist. His belief in universal benevolence is shown to good effect in this hilarious satire of the London bourgeoisie, but demonstrates how even businessmen conceal human hearts beneath their dry exteriors.

A tale of wills, bills, vanity and insanity, Banker Dornton's profligate son Harry, resolves to save his father from bankruptcy when his wild financial excesses have caused a run on the bank. This may mean he will to have to marry the 'vain, weak' Widow Warren -who has money to spare, and then some- despite being in love with her daughter, Sophia a wide-eyed innocent, (played with an appealing skittishness and in a pleasing Gloucestershire burr, by Claire Radcliffe). The Widow, meanwhile, is being pursued by Goldfinch, a brainless follower of fashion, with his endless tag, 'that's you're sort', and a seemingly bottomless pit of horse racing similes. Played in this production by John Paul Connolly as a bombastic, cartoon Irishman, his appearances provide some of the many delights of the evening. Needless to say (and how could it be otherwise with the author's political credentials?), the bank is saved by the loyalty of Dornton's level headed partner, Sulky, (Thomas Wheatley- excellent), Harry's resolution and a lost will which disinherits the Widow.

Sam Walter's beautifully directed, in-the-round, production, simply, but effectively designed by Tim Meacock, is characterised by some fine performances with even the leading players, appearing in a multiplicity of smaller parts. Terence Hardiman's crusty, stern father, whose heart can be melted by a kind word, is both funny and touching. Perky Louise Yates as the Widow's sly and resourceful maid, contributes some fine comedy and Auriol Smith, as the man-hungry, deceitful and avaricious Widow Warren, plays her role to perfection, as does David Gooderson as a dishonest and slippery money-lender.

At the play's centre, however, is Ed Stopped's, Harry Dornton, playing straight amongst a stage-full of grotesques. He is absolutely outstanding and in his sensitive and touching performance, demonstrates that even spendthrifts can have a generous sense of duty

A charming, witty and truly wonderful evening.

- Stephen Gilchrist