The Beaux’ Stratagem – Redgrave Theatre, Bristol

The Beaux' Stratagem BOVTS

Though the piece has a number of high points, clarity is not always one; the play’s convoluted plotting can be headache-inducing. Two fashionable beaux, Aimwell and Archer, broke and in need of money, have arrived in Lichfield looking for marriage to repair their fortunes. Aimwell soon falls in with the beautiful Dorinda, Archer with her sister-in-law Kate. The only obstacles to happiness; Kate’s boorish husband, highwaymen, a corrupt innkeeper and a comely innkeeper’s daughter.

Clarkson’s production has fun with theatrical convention right from the off, with an inventive mobile phone announcement nodding to the life of a touring theatrical troupe that these 2016 graduates will become over the next month, as this journey travels around theatres and art centres around the region.

This is the first of a number of interventions that Clarkson makes. There are so many ideas chucked at the piece that it doesn’t really matter if they all stick or not, there will be another moment to grab the attention in a few minutes. So we get Benny Hill chases, slow motion duals, a soundtrack that ranges from Gaga to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Variations and an oft repeated version of James Blunt’s Beautiful. It keeps the whole thing fresh and fun but does mean that when the actors are trusted to deliver the text, there is a certain impatience to see what’s coming next which isn’t fully conquered by performance alone.

Early days, but Dylan Wood, Maanuv Thiara and Jessica Nicklin are three to recommend keeping an eye on. Wood brings a swashbuckling swagger and cheeky laddishness to the bounder who seduces his way through Lichfield, Thiara a larger than life presence with a cigar constantly dangling out of his mouth like some demented movie mogul and Nicklin is terrific as the priest hiding her Irish blarney behind ‘ze francais’ façade (don’t ask!).

If some of the other roles are swallowed by concept, there is enough going on to make sure the 2½ hours pass in an entertaining blur. There is more to come from this group but this is a more than entertaining introduction.

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