The Game Of Love And ChanceThe eighteenth century’s most renowned French playwright, Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux may not be so commonly staged today, but he certainly deserves to be if this cracking production is any indication. My only previous exposure to him was through the sole English-language film that has ever been made of one of his plays, The Triumph of Love (2001) starring Mira Sorvino and Ben Kingsley, which was similarly beguiling.

The Game of Love and Chance (Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard) uses staple devices of classic comedies that you see everywhere from As You Like It to Così fan tutte, exploiting the inevitable hilarity caused by confusion over identity and thus love, in this case masters and their servants swapping roles in anticipation of some fairly convoluted wooing. Yet one of the things that is so refreshing about Marivaux’s play is its simplicity.

There are, of course, the requisite two couples, but in addition to this quartet there are just two other parts, leading to a lean cast of only six. Furthermore, the intricate farce plots one expects of such scenarios (as seen, for example, in NIDA’s concurrent production of Sheridan’s The Rivals) are largely absent. Beyond the central conceit there is actually very little plot, what we have instead is a well drawn character piece in which the familiar comic roles manage both to indulge in their stereotypes as well as almost transcend them. Particularly interesting is the fact that the roles of the coarse servants are given equal time (rather than making them either the leads or merely comic relief), and their infatuations are treated just as seriously as those of the nobles. No punitive marriages for the rascal footman in this play!

About to meet a prospective fiancée, young noblewoman Silvia requests her father Orgon’s permission to swap places with her serving-maid Lisette, so as to secretly observe her intended and better judge his merit. Orgon consents, letting his son Mario in on the unexpected irony that her suitor Dorante plans to make the same substitution with his own valet. Thus all four lovers are correctly paired from the outset, but each under the guise of their opposite station in life.

The set and props designer Paul Matthews and costume designer Gabrielle Logan must have worked hand-in-hand on this production, as it is one of the most cohesively discordant production designs I’ve seen in some time. Colourful and outrageous, the play is presented as an amalgamation of loosely eighteenth century styles, combining European, Asian and Turkish elements with abandon. For example, Orgon is costumed in the robes and elaborate makeup of a character out of Peking Opera and yet also wears something resembling a French powdered wig. An exaggeration of Chinoiserie, it is a choice which is delightfully incongruous with his clearly Caucasian children and their far more European outfits. Even so, Silvia’s pannier style crinoline dress is backed with a kimono’s obi, and Mario wears a tall turban and brandishes a Turkic cutlass. Colour-coordinating the two couples was also a rather nice touch.

A parade of silent stagehands with their bodies and faces entirely covered in black (looking somewhat like ninjas) periodically walk on bearing Orgon’s amusements such as a multi-spouted hookah, or, in one odd scene, puppeteering a group of pink flamingos across the stage.

Aubrey Mellor has directed an extremely lively production, one that uses simple but energetic stagecraft to fill a deliberately small rostrum with all the action, as though intensifying the comedy through physical compression. The unused performance area both behind and in front of a long scrim allow for the occasional processionals, or for especially intense moments to explode off the stage, to great effect.

Mellor deserves praise not only for his skilled direction, but especially for the excellent casting (in cooperation with the directors of the other two Third Year productions and teaching staff at NIDA), as each of these six fine actors seems perfectly suited to their roles. Tahki Saul as Dorante and the exquisite Laura Brent as Silvia both manage to bring considerable charm to bear on the usually humdrum archetypes of the noble romantic leads. Portraying equal parts ardor and cultured neuroses, Saul and Brent transcend the eye-candy requirements of such characters and are both captivating and uproarious.

No less so are the very funny Amy Adams as Lisette and the hilarious Yalin Ozucelik as Pasquin the valet. Both performers artfully push the envelope of “broad” as far as possible without crossing over into outright “ham”. They draw many belly laughs with their outrageous antics while passing themselves off as their social superiors, each believing the other to be the genuine article, yet both lustily smitten all the while. Ozucelik in particular had many side-splitting moments as he bound around (and off) the stage, full of feigned pomposity and coarse affection. In somewhat smaller but equally effective roles were Ivan Donato as Orgon and Andrew Lees as Mario, eccentric father and son who are the only ones initially in on the larger joke, falling about themselves with glee whilst facilitating the confusion.

A lavish feast for the eyes, ears and most definitely the funnybone, the deceptively simple yet thoroughly rich The Game of Love and Chance comes highly recommended. Bring a whole bunch of friends.

NIDA presents
Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux | Translated by David Clendinning

Venue: Parade Theatres, NIDA | 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington
Dates/Times: Wednesday 11, Thursday 12, Friday 13, Saturday 14, Monday 16 April at 7.30pm
Tickets: Adult $25 | Conc $15 | Groups 10+ $15
Bookings: 132 849 or