A Trick to Catch the Old One (Rose, Bankside)
Middleton's rarely-seen comedy sees a young man take revenge on the uncle who has tricked him out of his inheritance
Thomas Middleton, once the dramatic rival of William Shakespeare, is best known for his revenge tragedy. But the Mercurius Company has chosen to revive one of the playwright's raucous city comedies.
A Trick to Catch the Old One was written in 1605 and its central characters are clever London wide boys trying to outdo each other in their cynicism and greed.
This revival, directed by Jenny Eastop, sets the action in the black market world of 1940s London. The mood is captured beautifully by the snappy suits of costume designer Sarah Andrews with comic performances reflecting the old working class of the time. Stephen Good's performance as Walkadine Hoard, in particular, is reminiscent of Stephen Lewis' iconic Blackey in On the Buses.
There is also a contemporary resonance in the satire of greed for money and property, and the folly of those who ruthlessly pursue its acquisition by any means. Jonathan Reid takes on the protagonist role of Theocritus Witgood with lustre and spot on comic timing. His scheming uncle Pecunius Lucre, played by Cameron Robertson, charms with a laconic lewd humour.
Perhaps the star of the show however is Alexandra Ryall who plays the courtesan posing as a rich widow. She is equally convincing in both roles and her cheeky easy going optimism enables her to triumph in the end.
A Trick to Catch the Old One gathers pace as it develops, but it's held back by a sometimes confusing plot. Things become clearer in the second half although some jokes simply don't translate into the modern idiom.
Despite this the historic setting of the Rose Bankside, home to Shakespeare's original performances, and Eastop's imaginative use of space does give the comedy a certain lease of life. The script has an artfully contrived ending that brings out what good there is in Middleton's flawed and foolish characters. In the end no one gets what they want but all of them get what they need from each other.
A visit to The Rose is a theatrical experience in itself with a small select cast performing directly to you in an intimate setting. And it's nice to see a Middleton city comedy performed in the city for which it was written.
A Trick to Catch the Old One continues at Rose, Bankside until 24 May