Selina Cadell’s production of William Congreve’s The Double Dealer opens with a modern prologue written by the director and Eliza Thompson.
The additional text gently satirises the reputation of Restoration comedies, pointing out how they often seem like little more than a role call of names and engagements: Lord So-and-so marries Miss Such-and-such, while Baron Evil-plot-twist tries to elope with the heroine.
It’s a shame then, that this self-awareness doesn’t result in a staging that confounds expectations of the genre. Instead, Cadell’s production conforms to many of the worst stereotypes – an extremely dull and lengthy play stuffed with aristocratic shagging and scheming.
The basic premise is that Mellefont (Lloyd Everitt) plans to marry Cynthia (Zoe Waites) but Maskwell (Edward MacLiam) has plans to derail the impending nuptials because he wants the bride-to-be for himself. Added to this are various subplots involving various people having various affairs.
Save for a few line stumbles, the cast do a generally good job. The overarching problem lies with the clumsy direction, which has the entire play staged as a series of face-to-face conversations between the characters who intermittently dash on and off stage. The only sense of momentum comes from the cast rushing and spinning wildly about the place, sometimes coming super-close to thwacking an audience member in the process.
The Orange Tree’s programming is usually assured. This had the potential to be a Restoration romp fit for a festive giggle. Unfortunately, despite the script’s frequent mentions of the word ‘plot’, this production seems to have completely lost one.