There is, sadly, much more tell than show in Matthew Francis’ adaptation of Rose Tremain’s complex, multi-layered Restoration, premiered at Salisbury Playhouse.
It’s far from being a disaster and it stays scrupulously faithful to the original, but too much in Tremain’s exploration of eighties materialism through the giddy avaricious world of Charles II’s restoration England remains in the narrative voice of her anti-hero.
Tom Burke’s slightly hunched, almost apologetic Merivel is never off stage and turns in an engaging performance as the clever physician turned King’s fool, whose quest for self-gratification is his downfall and ultimately his redemption.
Some of the narrative burden is passed to Merivel’s father (David Killick), mentor (Ben Porter) and monarch (Nicholas Boulton), each of whom comment from the sidelines, and to counter tenor Andrew Watts and the cast, singing to original music by Richard Sisson.
But Tremain’s broad canvas sweep is crammed uncomfortably into this pen portrait.
Like designer Colin Falconer’s framed set - on to which beds glide, hangings unfurl and tree branches overhang - it’s colourful but rather two-dimensional for such a full-bodied time and tale.
As director, Francis moves the action from court to country estate to fenland Bedlam swiftly if not always smoothly.
Boulton swaggers majestically as the libidinous Charles, marrying casual geniality with cold command.
The rest of the cast play a myriad of characters between them and barely have time to skim the surface of one before they are on to the next.
Gwendoline Christie scores as loose women at either end of the social scale, Gillian Budd as Merivel’s paper bride sings exquisitely and Porter is a dour but decent Pearce.