The Double Dealer review: Foolish antics will leave you in a spin

The Double Dealer review: Foolish antics will leave you in a spin

If I might append a cheeky footnote to my theatrical wishlist for 2019 it would be this: as little Restoration comedy as possible, please. It’s rarely mirthful (and not at all restorative) and too often audiences sit there in benign bewilderment — or, worse, a sense of obligation — while the long and elaborate tricks play out.

Meanwhile, back to this month’s Restoration comedy. It’s a rarely performed 1693 work by William Congreve, in contrast to his enduring hit The Way of the World, which was seen at the Donmar earlier this year. Selina Cadell is an experienced director in this rarefied field and she certainly does her best to enliven things, with a cheeky prologue, some sharp asides to the audience and clever use of the auditorium’s upper level. Yet there’s no getting around the fact that it’s an uphill struggle all the way.

Various dastardly folk are intent on scuppering the imminent marriage between true-hearted Cynthia (Zoe Waites) and Mellefont (Lloyd Everitt) but it’s hard to follow and harder still to care about the frantic antics of these foolish fops.

The brutal truth is this: I understood less of the play at the end than I did at the beginning and became increasingly bewildered as to which of her two characters, steadfast Cynthia or Cynthia’s would-be nemesis Lady Touchwood, Waites was playing at any given time. Not a strong hand to be dealt.

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