14 December 2012

Love's Comedy at the Orange Tree

The Orange Tree Theatre delights in putting on plays that nobody else does, and that is one of the reasons why I like it, so when we get a play by Ibsen it is the London premier of an early work.

Not that it really mattered what it was, I go to everything at the Orange Tree. I'd quite like a season ticket then I would be sure of my favourite seat. I got the usual front-row position this time only by making some old people sit closer together than they are probably used to.

It was good to see the theatre so busy, even if the average age is a cause of concern for the future.

Love's Comedy is mostly dialogue to a simple stage suits it. The conversations happen indoors and out and the stage is happy to play both roles at the same time.

There is a large cast of characters and while there is little direct action (this is an Ibsen play) there is much coming and going making use of all four of the Orange Tree's exits/entrances. There is even some movement behind the audience.

This was the fist play directed by David Antrobus a Orange Tree regular as an actor. So it's not surprising that he knew how to make the most of the physical attributes of the theatre.

The cast includes a widowed mother, her two daughters, the three men chasing them and a young couple who have been engaged for some time but who cannot yet afford to get married.

Their conversations are about love and relationships and things that are needed to sustain them.

Most of the characters are young and entering in to relationships for the first time so they are full of hope and good expectations.

They also start to explore the consequences of being a couple and this is particularly acute when we learn that one young man expects to take his wife from Norway to the USA where we can get a better job as a pastor.

Most of the discussion is conventional and practicable but one of the young men, Falk, a poet, questions this and wants to rejoice in the hear-and-now of love rather than plan for its future. One of the daughters, Svanhild, is captivated and they plan to run off together.

It is the story of Falk and Svanhild that the play revolves around but while they are the main roles the play needs all of the other points of view to work.

I have seen plays where some of the characters seemed to be completely pointless, this is not one of them.

It is important not to forget the word "comedy" in the play's title as there is a gentle thread of humour throughout, most of which comes from the silliness of some of the characters.

The play is not perfect though, and you would not expect an early work to be so. The structure is fine but some of the main conversations go on for too long and there are so many of them that it makes the play a little overly long.

The only other problem I had with the play, and it was just my problem, is that Falk looked remarkably like somebody I know and that was very distracting.

But these were two minor problems in a rich play delivered expertly by the whole creative team.

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