Director Andy Arnold was first drawn to Ben Jonson’s 17th-century play by a review from the critic Kenneth Tynan, which noted the way it takes “malice and savagery and makes them palatable.”
In playwright Gary McNair’s new version – a rapid-fire farce whose language is updated to raw, often sweary and blackly hilarious Glaswegian Scots – no cynical con artist or pitiable rube escapes the sharp judgement of the text.
In the stately townhouse of the wealthy but absent Lovewit, a pair of charlatans play multiple confidence tricks with ever-more-frantic degrees of greed. Louise McCarthy is Lovewit’s housekeeper Face and Grant O’Rourke is Subtle, the down-on-his-luck master con artist who Face rescued from the gutter.
The pair’s mile-a-minute bickering is matched only by their perfect synchronicity in procuring wads of cash from the procession of gullible oddballs who pass through the house via promises of wealth, love and greatness.
The rest of the roles are split between the small cast, including Robert Jack’s glamorous, pouting young heiress Dame Pliant; Neshla Caplan’s strutting spiv coffee shop owner Abel Drugger; Jo Freer’s chortling, greedy toff Sir Epicure Mammon and desperately impudent schoolboy Kastril; and Stephen Clyde’s trio of great characters in weaselly cynic Surly, desiccated church elder Tribulation Wholesome and Lovewit himself, who speaks with a nasal middle manager’s whine.
Charlotte Lane’s set design is stunning – a two-level space filled with hidden hatches, face-holes and goldfish bowls bolted to the walls, she has dressed the characters like 1960s bohemians performing a harlequinade.
As regulars might expect from one of Tron artistic director Arnold’s productions, the action is just as luminous. It has a raw and contemporary energy, actors pushed to breathless limits, and a political edge – in this case, showing the desperate effect of poverty – which is palpable.