It's been a week since we went to see this (where does the time go?) and I'm still telling anyone I can get to sit still for long enough how brilliant it was. It helps that I love The Swan, and that Stratford favoured us with an afternoon of glorious sunshine and general autumn perfection sandwiched in between days of miserable rain, and that The RSC is always reliable - I mean we were always going to enjoy ourselves, but this was still something special.
The last RSC outing was for Henry V which was an altogether more serious affair - thought provoking but not really about the laughs - this was all about the laughs. In all honesty Shakespeare generally leaves me a little cold, the language is so dense I find it hard to fall into his world, and the low humour is lower than I like, so it's been a surprise over the last couple of seasons to find how much I've enjoyed his contemporaries.
When it comes to restoration comedy I already have a very soft spot for Vanbrugh (soldier, spy, architect, play-write - like a cooler 17th century Version of Bond) so the chance to see something by Congreve was definitely to be jumped at. Even with all those stars aligned this was just so much more than we expected - it was that good.
The plot is simple enough, Valentine loves Angelica but he's run out of money. To keep his creditors at bay he agrees to sign over his inheritance to his younger brother for a cash settlement from his father, but he's still determined to try and secure that inheritance by the simple measure of not signing the final paperwork. Meanwhile Angelica avoids making her feelings known, she has money and marrying will be an end to independence so she needs to be sure that the man she chooses is sincere in his love. Sir Sampson Legend, Valentine's father, is determined to exact total obedience from his sons, he also entertains designs on Angelica amongst other sub plots.
The plot isn't overly important (though the end is satisfyingly romantic) in the wider scheme of things it's the chance to share joke after joke. First nights have a specific atmosphere anyway (we've been to a few for a combination of cheaper tickets, and early finishes from work) there will be the odd fluffed line or similar mishap and it breaks down the barrier between the actors and the audience, it's an atmosphere I've come to love. In this production the fourth wall is thoroughly demolished, the audience are acknowledged throughout so there was a real sense of taking part in something.
We also loved the way the action started before the play did, with the cast all on stage - the idea is that they're a group of strolling players setting up for a performance somewhere - throwing props around and playing with ropes. The same sort of thing happens in the interval and it was delightful. Tom Turner who plays Valentine has a proper comedy back ground which tells because he made it look effortless (he's really good in this) but the whole cast were excellent (I really hope they were having as much fun as it looked).
It's a bright, light, colourful, funny, romp of a play, we enjoyed it so much that both of us would go again (I'm seriously considering it). It runs until the 22nd of January and is the perfect antidote to winter blues