Reviewer – Phill James.
William Congreve’s Restoration Comedy performs at the Crucible this month and is directed with style and panache by Lyndsey Turner. Modern reimaginings of old plays don’t always work and it is to this production’s credit that it manages to strike a fine balance between staying true to the original style and feel, whilst bringing something wholly new to proceedings. The plot of the play revolves around Lady Wishfort, a frail, feeble middle-aged lady unmarried and sitting on a rather large fortune. The other players are all snakes in the grass, with very different ideas as to how to con her out of it for their own gain. This is a play full of wit and humour, deliberately confusing to the audience in places as we try and work out who is playing who and what lines are lies and what are truths. The wordplay is often fantastic and everything comes together for a rousing final act where true intentions are finally revealed.
Turner and her production team are ably assisted by a fine ensemble cast. There are no weak links in the line-up and each actor plays their part to a tee. Ben Lloyd-Hughes’ Mirabell is pitched perfectly between charming and deceptive without ever tipping over to smarmy, and Deborah Findlay’s Lady Wishfort is animated and sympathetic in her stupidity. The play is funny throughout, but mostly when either Samuel Barnett’s Witwould or Richard Goulding’s Sir Wilfull are on stage. True to their names, Barnett’s delivery and put-downs are perfectly timed and his facial expressions alone often mean it’s impossible to look elsewhere. Goulding on the other hand is loud, brash and energetic, stealing the second half of the show with a fantastic drunk scene and a series of wonderful one-liners revolving around his own willfulness.
Productions from Sheffield’s own theatre company rarely disappoint and The Way of the World is no exception. We have one of the most talented and creative companies in the UK working in the city and the Crucible remains one of the country’s finest stages to perform on. Showing throughout February, this is as fine a reworking of Congreve’s classic as you could hope to find. From the musical opening and set design all the way through to the cast and wry costumes, this is a production that treads well wherever it moves its feet. It still feels fresh and relevant today, despite the obvious cynicism of Congreve’s message. In The Way of the World, you either play, or get played. The audience, meanwhile, can just sit back and enjoy the show.
The Way of the World runs until 25th February at the Crucible.