After having reviewed an uproarious NIDA production of The Game of Love and Chance last year, it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to see another Marivaux play especially since the comedies of this great French playwright are far less frequently staged here than those of his precursor Molière. These works by Marivaux have a great deal to offer, and although they may not have the wicked bite of a Molière satire ,they more than make up for it with abundant charm.
Indeed, charm and wit are the key factors in this highly entertaining rendition of The Feigned Inconstancy. Opting for a quite conventional setting with elaborate period costumes and a rather plain set evoking the grounds of an opulent manor, this production relies on the strength of its script and the abundant comedic talents of its performers.
In a nutshell, the story is one of paramours both fickle and faithful engaging in a game of feigned and misdirected affections to provoke love and jealousy alike in the height of aristocratic indolence. In other words, delightfully contrived romantic fluff. Using a very elegant (albeit uncredited) translation, the courtly language and its verbal dexterity is one of the chief pleasures of this play, forming an excellent counterpoint with the heightened tone of the performances.
Indeed, the calibre of the ensemble acting and David Wicks’ direction are to be especially commended for having both made the show such a cohesive whole, as all the performers very effectively collaborate in imparting a unified tone. This style uses a lot of exaggeration and caricature with more than a dash of farce yet generally without straying into complete mugging or buffoonery, all the while allowing each actor to create entirely distinct and memorable characterisations.
A few added touches lend extra hilarity to the evening, such as opening on a kind of frenetic dumbshow in which the actors dash about the stage striking poses and tableaux in perfect synchronisation with classical music, seemingly as though a breakneck visual synopsis of the plot. A variation of the technique is employed for amusing interludes during scene changes, used almost as filler to indicate time lapses since the production features no furniture or changing scenery and could just as easily have made instantaneous transitions.
The high standard of these graduating-year VCA actors is especially apparent in this ensemble cast who are of a truly uniform quality, so to pick any one out as the star would be impossible. Instead they should each be given individual praise.
Perhaps the most flashy performance belonged to Josh Price as the unbelievably foppish Captain, an absurdly self-involved and overdressed dandy (apparently wearing self-portrait buckles on his shoes) whose extravagant wooing is ultimately as much a pretence as his appearance.
A stark contrast was Thomas Larkin as the faithful Dorante,probably the closest thing the play has to a traditional “straight man” role,although credit goes to him that he manages to hold his own and never let his character seem boring in this whirlpool of overbearing personalities.
Nick Donaldson was very endearing as his highly-strung manservant Harlequinn,dashing about with frantic vigour and exploding into outright hysteria at the drop of a hat, a character almost entirely without self-control.
By comparison, the striking Zarah Newman brought some exquisitely arch touches to her role as the manipulative Marquise who tries to reverse all the characters’fortunes, with some hilarious bits of precision timing and some devastating entrances.
As her opposite number and friend-turned-rival the Countess, Julia Grace displayed a great contrast as this mercurial, self-indulgent lady whose desire to be chased by both leading men drives the plot. With some wonderful character touches like an outrageously girly dress covered in pink lace and bows and scoffing a new dessert in most scenes, Grace’s consummate comic timing imparted a surprising degree of subtlety to such an ostensibly broad performance.
Also tremendously funny was the spunky Sophie Mathisen as her maid Lisette who conveys an effective mix of naïveté, petulance and tender vulnerability, making her comparatively smaller role equally memorable. She expertly delivers one or two side-splittingly unexpected moments that mustn’t be spoiled by revealing them here.
Perhaps the… strangest performance of the bunch came from Nick Cook, the only actor who doubles-up, playing the Countess’ comical gardener but really going to town as the Captain’s footman who is spying for Marquise. In a bizarre performance utilizing piercing bug-eyed stares, oddly clipped speech and an almost unsettlingly earnest deadpan, Cook’s decidedly weird characterisation (augmented by looking at times like the spitting image of Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien) added a special ingredient to the play.
With its delightful twists and turns enhanced by a very funny and well-oiled ensemble cast Marivaux’s The Feigned Inconstancy comes recommended.
VCA Drama and VCA Production present
Two Classic Comedies
by Carlo Goldoni ~ directed by Gary Down
Dates/times: Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24; Monday 26 – Wednesday 28 May at 7.30pm ~ Saturday 24 May at 2pm
Venue: Space 28
The Feigned Inconstancy
by Pierre Marivaux ~ directed by David Wicks
Dates/times: Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24; Monday 26 – Wednesday 28 May at 8pm ~ Saturday 24 May at 2pm
Cost: $20 Full / $12 Concession
Location: VCA Drama, 28 Dodds Street, Southbank
Information: 03 9685 9225