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Love for Love review at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘stylishly flirtatious’

Carl Prekopp, Tom Turner and Zoe Waites In Love for Love at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

During the pre-show shenanigans, the exuberant company gathers on the Swan Theatre stage to revel in the joys and processes of putting on the play we are about to see – preparing costumes, carrying on items of set, gossiping – and choose a member of the audience to be Queen Anne.

The performance suddenly becomes royal. This initial enthusiasm continues throughout Selina Cadell’s stylish production (though the queen is not referred to again). And there is much to enjoy, not least Eliza Thompson’s exquisite, atmospheric, and unobtrusive music; Rosalind Ebbutt’s evocative and eye-compelling costumes; and Tom Piper’s witty set design, which effortlessly evokes a late 17th century printed page.

Firmly etched into this world are Tom Turner’s precisely turned, pursed-lipped Valentine Legend, Zoe Waites’s flirtatious Mrs Frail, Hermione Gulliford’s glinting Mrs Foresight and Jonathan Broadbent’s physically and verbally dexterous Mr Tattle.

Other highlights include two solo numbers (from Anna Tierney and Jonathan Christie), a sailors’ dance, and an all-too-brief chorus of the six women.

But why Congreve, who lacks the verbal exuberance of a Goldsmith or a Sheridan, and why this particular play? The company loyally tries its hardest to play it almost entirely for laughs – encourages us to join in the singing, and hands us items of costume and a pair of coconut shells – but in truth Congreve’s play is a lightly witty, fledgling farce, predominantly sentimental in tone. Justine Mitchell’s comparatively underplayed Angelica, Nicholas Le Prevost’s care-worn but lusty Sir Sampson Legend, and Michael Thomas’s carefully observed Foresight were most welcome.

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A stylishly flirtatious production, and entertaining for the winter season, but one that brings too much farce to Congreve’s play