The playwright hardly delivers the plot into oneís lap, although for anyone whoís happy for form to outweigh content, itís possible to ride the waves of Jonsonís magnificent language even when itís not too clear whatís going on.
In a nutshell the convoluted plot concerns an eccentric gentleman Fitzdotrell who takes on an out-of-his-depth minor devil as servant and is outwitted by a band of crooks and dealers who attempt to fleece him of wealth and wife.
Director Kate McGregor updates the action to 1829, which works well enough, giving it a vaguely circus setting (pre-echoes of Dickensí Hard Times), while wisely not over-exploiting the theme. She shapes her large castís performances skilfully, keeping a tight grip until the later stages when things go a little awry.
The long scene in the second half, where the would-be seducer Wittipol (Sean Turner) dresses as a Spanish lady (for some reason or other) gives the opportunity for the borderline between bold physicalisation and grimacing and cavorting to be too frequently crossed by all and sundry and things start to get rather tiresome.
McGregor recovers from this to give us a strikingly-realised denouement where the foppish Fitzdotrell presents his feigned bewitchment as the ravings of a twitching, frenetic clown, red-nose and all. Itís Oliver LaveryĎs finest moment of the evening as the dotty protagonist.
Thereís plenty of sustained energy and colourful performances, with Davin EadieĎs spidery Merecraft, Phil Bishopís gawky Pug and Emily Whiteís sharp, enticingly-named Lady Tailbush catching the eye. One gets a sense of a teeming metropolis filled with the sort of street detail that is treated more fully in the authorís slightly earlier Bartholomew Fair.
Itís an auspicious start for the new hounds on the block (kudos for trying something different) and will hopefully be followed by equally spirited dips into the more demanding repertoire.