Review: For Love or Money (Viaduct Theatre, Halifax)

Barrie Rutter stars in his last production as artistic director of Northern Broadsides, after 25 years at the helm

The start of the final tour of Barrie Rutter as artistic director of Northern Broadsides really is the end of an era. 25 years on from when he founded the company, For Love or Money is his last production at Broadsides’ Halifax base. And it fits into one of the main strands of the Rutter regime, not Shakespeare this time, but an adaptation and Yorkshirisation by Blake Morrison of an elderly non-English play.

For Love or Money is an extremely stylish example of the genre and exceptionally well acted. The only people likely to be disappointed are those hoping to see Alain-Rene Lesage’s Turcaret. In the programme Morrison repeats Rutter’s advice to him, "Make a new play of it," and so he does. 1920s small town Yorkshire is a long way from the Paris of the early 18th century; for tax farming aristos read a banker, an Army officer’s widow and a doctor’s ne’er do well son.

The plot is essentially fairly simple, but shoots out twists and diversions as deceptions either work or are revealed; most of the characters are con-artists or dupes or, often, both. Rose is a once rich widow, selling her inheritance as she pursues a life of languid extravagance. Jessica Worrell’s cleverly designed set tells it all: there is an elegant chaise longue, but little other furniture; the wallpaper has class, but also lighter patches everywhere – the family portraits have been sold off!

Rose is pursued by two men. Fuller, the pompous bank manager, a widower of a certain age, bombards her with gifts; Arthur, the handsome idler, has turned her head and Fuller’s gifts are liable to pay his gambling debts. But what looks likely to be a Don Pasquale-like plot of young-couple-spend-rich-old-fool’s-money takes us instead through murkily comical byways.

Sarah-Jane Potts is outstanding as Rose: elegantly clad in her last posh frock, she is equally at home languishing indolently on her chaise longue or bouncing with bubbly laughter at the thought of more money arriving. Her knowing innocence delights and amuses. Rutter captures all the self-satisfaction and foolishness of Fuller and is convincingly a man with a secret (or several). Jos Vantyler’s gift for the eccentric makes Arthur a preening coxcomb with a tendency to run all over the furniture.

Jordan Metcalfe’s cheeky chappy of a Jack the lad bursts with life as Arthur’s companion/servant, as does Kat Rose-Martin, his girlfriend of ill repute. Matthew Booth, a bank clerk with a litany of woes, and the outrageous Sarah Parks, a "French" widow offering all kinds of prospects, excel in cameos. Jacqueline Naylor as Marlene, the over-forthright housekeeper, and Jim English as Martin, the love-sick farmer, make the most of the Yorkshire archaisms that pepper Blake Morrison’s witty script.

Rutter’s energetic production is skilfully stylised, with in-character entrances to a touch of 1920s jazz, and movement is precise and beautifully judged. It’s Northern Broadsides, so we finish with a dance (choreographer Beverley Norris-Edmunds), no clogs this time, just a Charleston.

For Love or Money runs at the Viaduct Theatre until 23 September, then tours to Leeds, Huddersfield, York, Bury, Kingston, Newcastle, Scarborough, and Liverpool.