The Innocent Mistress

Fri 7th – Sat 15th March 2014

reviews

Cesca Cahill

at 23:03 on 11th Mar 2014

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Mary Pix’s The Innocent Mistress depicts duplicity, scandal and comic bawdiness making it an excellent example of Restoration comedy, although being less common to the stage than its counter-parts like William Wycherley’s The Country Wife.

The play's fast pace, large cast and various criss-crossing plots are superbly directed by Jenny Stephens. This successfully provides bucketfuls of humour as the play develops and, then, true to Restoration style, becomes happily resolved. Particularly entertaining is Perry Moore as Squire Barnaby Cheatall, capturing his conceited and foolish nature perfectly, while Bethan Nash as Constance Beauclair portrays her easy wit and charm. Furthermore, Joseph Black as Goodman was especially amusing when playing counter to Mollie Corser as Arabella. These comic characters provided the perfect foil to the core of the drama, Sir Charles Beauclair and Bellinda’s attempt at pure love amidst the mischief surrounding them. This was especially true with Phil Dunster’s emotive portrayal of Sir Charles towards the close of the play.

The staging and costumes complimented the drama, with the intimate staging of the studio theatre providing an informal and immediate feel - spot-on for an 18th century drama. Similarly, the costumes enhanced the production, particularly those of Georgia Kerr playing Peggy and Cassie Webb playing Lady Beauclair, adding to their excellent portrayals of these lurid characters. The clever use of candlelight added to the jovial atmosphere and was very effective for the choral interlude, though perhaps was slightly overused towards the close of the play.

In addition, the use of individual actors for multiples parts, for instance Alice McCarthy who played both Bellinda and Eugenia, did initially lead to a slight confusion of characterisation that could have been avoided, especially in a play already so occupied with delightful misrepresentation.

All in all however, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School provided a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable evening.

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Isobel Cockerell

at 23:59 on 11th Mar 2014

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The Innocent Mistress is down in the Old Vic’s ominously named ‘studio pit’. The audience are placed around the edge of the stage, so close to the actors that every facet of their painted expressions is up for detailed scrutiny.

Mary Pix’s 1697 Restoration play is a hedonistic whirlwind. It bubbles over with lusty laughter as the numerous characters tramp across the stage, flirting and swooning. With its painted faces and bawdy costumes, giggling girls and randy men, the play is a delight to the senses. Blazing the trail was flame-haired Nicola Kavanagh as Mrs Flywife, who was the life and soul of the show. She was somehow gracefully feminist in her slatternly yet headstrong ways. Whilst her part was among the most caricatured of the ensemble, Kavanagh also managed to make it the most believable.

The play's proximity was perhaps its strongest aspect, particularly when it came to the rampant, sexually charged scenes, which were, it has to be said, entirely convincing. At one point, one couple’s embrace was so forceful it looked for a moment as if the edge of the stage might come crashing down on to the laps of the front row.

The set and lighting in particular were beautifully, sumptuously done with exquisite attention to detail. At one point, as the lovers frolicked through the park, leaves actually fluttered down, and a green-gold autumn light filtered down on the actors. Candlelight was a central feature of the play, replicating the setting of the original restoration productions. The first time the candelabras were lit, at some length by the cast, it was visually spectacular, lending the tone of the evening scene a rightful sense of occasion. The effect was perhaps dulled a little the second time: it seemed excessive and a little involved, and when they came round a third time to snuff them out, it actually stagnated the pacing of the narrative itself.

What the performance lacked was subtlety. Everything about it was slightly over the top: the set, the lighting, the costumes, the make-up, and acting to match. It overwhelmed to the point where, whilst it was at times rapturously entertaining and aesthetically delightful, the heart of it was lost amid the general cacophony. Of course, a Restoration play is in its very nature rakish and excessive, but nonetheless some of Pix’s finer, more subtle lines were treated with little reverence. After the deafening shrieks of the unravelling penultimate scene, the final cathartic duologue between Belinda, our ‘innocent mistress’, (Alice McCarthy) and the object of her longing, Sir Charles (Phil Dunster) felt a little arbitrary. As a result, in the play’s ecstasy it lacked depth, and ultimately felt a little insincere.

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