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Bravo to Tyger's Heart for The Way of the World


Review by Paul Nelson

IT IS excellent to be able to report that there is a lot of good acting going on in Highgate and, in addition the theatre, the splendidly proportioned Upstairs at the Gatehouse, provides a comfort rare for the Fringe during a heatwave in London.

Two good reasons then for going to see Congreve's masterpiece, The Way of the World, though there are even more excellent reasons.

The play is too rarely performed and when it is, usually sets the teeth. It is long, and interesting, but unless that interest has involved the audience from the beginning as the plot is laid, the play fails to grab the audience.

A lot of the reason this production avoids that pitfall is that it is presented in modern dress, and to great success, a fashion to which I do not regularly subscribe.

The play first came to my notice when I was a grammar school boy with an English teacher who was a bit of a thespian on the side.

We 'did' The Way of the World when I was 12-years-old and he commanded our interest completely by telling us the play was all about gossip and done through conversation.

When he further explained the names painted the characters and habits of the dramatis personae, I and the rest of the form were hooked.

Mirabel (try ADmirable), Millamant (loved by thousands) Lady Wishfort (dying for it) and so on. It's a good parlour game for theatregoers.

Freed from the trappings and fashions (not to say mannerisms) of 1700, the cast at The Gatehouse leap on to the play with joy and from the moment in scene one in the chocolate house when Mirabel admits to a plan he has concocted and Fainall, (dodgy name, try anything) cottons on to it, the audience is, as Congreve planned, as hooked as I was in my salad days.

This is also due to two more very important factors. First, the casting is excellent, each actor presumably drawn for his suitability from, one suspects, a pool of rather more than the present group, and secondly the direction.

I have raved about Melissa Holston in the past (and wailed I must admit), but now she has her head let her go, say I. She obviously has the ability to thrill an audience so let her get to it.

The joys of this performance are manifold. The drunken scenes are so wondrously funny, both Petulant and Sir Wilfull performing hilarious knockabout antics that your enjoyment in these two is secured. However, the evening only begins with this perfection.

The dashing Mirabel and the smooth Fainall are excellent. Witwoud, too, cannily aware of the trap set by this modern dress version, resists translating the mannerisms into those of just another gay quean.

That's a fine line to walk and the actor does it well. Mirabel's servant Waitwell, posing as Sir Rowland, would be suitor to Lady Wishfort, is so phoneyly dashing and romantic that I laughed heartily.

The ladies are in total command of their scenes, their men, and their roles. Foible, compliant in Mirabel's plot, shows both liveliness and zeal, as well as suitable grief at the thought of a prison term, Mrs Fainall the faithful wronged wife is finely drawn and Millamant and Marwood are both faithful to their parts and their names.

However, it is due to the wild imagination of Helen Bachrich, as Lady Wishfort, that all others pale before this character.

Her wilder statements regarding her views and, in particular, her own appearance and charms are so very funny, and they get such good shrift, that the evening, already secure, takes off.

It is good to see such a play performed with a flair not easily found these days. The company would be justified if it patted itself on the back.

I look forward to seeing their next and hope the wait is not too long.

Bravo to Tyger's Heart.

The Way of the World by William Congreve, Directed by Melissa Holston, Design by Naomi Dawson, Costume Design Emmett de Monterey-Rose, Lighting and Sound Design Derek Carlyle. WITH: Philip Mansfield (Fainall), Bryan Pilkington (Mirabel), Daniel Wexler (Witwoud), James Quarton (Petulant), Ashley Stanton (Sir Wilfull Witwoud), Jonathan Ashley (Waitwell), Helen Bachrich (Lady Wishfort), Victoria Walker (Mrs Millamant), Kerry McAleese (Mrs Marwood), Lisa May (Mrs Fainall), Deborah Lynton (Foible), Kerry McAleese (Mincing). Produced by Tyger's Heart at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Hampstead Lane, Highgate Village, London N6. Tickets 8340 3488.

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