Candles flicker above the beautiful oak boards, twinkling against the polished wood like stars in a dark lake, notes from stringed instruments chirrup and float through the air like birdsong and handsomely dressed men and women twirl through the space, depositing stage furniture as they go, noses thrust skyward and limbs all of a point.
No Seventeenth Century comedy would be complete without a park scene, and the opening of William Congreve’s Love for Love, as performed at the Bristol Old Vic, certainly captures the essence of promenading through public gardens. Of course there’s an illicit undertone to the proceedings in the park, including gossiping, plotting and making love to affianced women, which is suggested beautifully by the multi-layered staging and the sultry candlelight throwing such deeds into semi-darkness.
The play charts the fortunes of several characters of London society – Mr Tattle, Mr Scandal, Mrs Frail, Mr Foresight, Angelica and her beau, Valentine. While the plot is nothing particularly new for anyone familiar with comic plays of the late Seventeenth Century, the cast certainly do their upmost to bring it to life. Rosie Nicholls as Mrs Frail is a particular highlight and has the guffaw of a meddlesome spinster, that her character is, well and truly nailed.
Notable too is Timothy Innes as Valentine, who brings physical comedy to the play, during his feigned madness in a quest to test Angelica’s amorous sentiments. There’s a touch of Noel Fielding in his Mighty Boosh days about Innes’ mad scenes, which keeps the performance quirkily modern and provides a point of reference for today’s audience.
Overall, the cast were well-rehearsed, confident and delivered a triumphant performance. Love for Love is complicated, filled with intrigue and plots within counter-plots, but the skill of the cast ensured the action was easy to follow, especially in the second half where the pace quickens. A long-winded plot and period-specific ideas of social etiquette signal a brave choice of play for a young company. However, the comic scandals, the pace and the twittering of Seventeenth Century London, more than prove that Love for Love has a place in today’s repertoire.