The Soldier’s Fortune @ Young Vic, London

cast list
Anne-Marie Duff
Ray Fearon
David Bamber
Oliver Ford Davies
Kananu Kirimi
James Traherne
Alec Newman

directed by
David Lan
Restoration comedies are not often compared to London buses, but theres a first time for everything. No sooner has one opened on the South Bank, with Nicholas Hytners glossy revival of The Man Of Mode at the National, then another opens just round the corner: David Lans period costume staging of Thomas Otways The Soldiers Fortune at the Yong Vic.

Unfortunately the latter lacks a lot of the polish of Hytners production, and – more crucially – it lacks the laughs. The absence of, what for want of a better term well call the Rory Kinnear factor, is quite glaring.

Lans production is blessed with, what on paper sounds like a fantastic cast, but together they fail to inject the requisite energy and excitement into this limp staging. Anne-Marie Duff, so brilliant in Channel 4s Shameless, flounders as the young wife of the one-eyed Sir Davey Dunce, whose extramarital liaisons with returning soldier Captain Beaugard (played by Corries Ray Fearon) are choreogrpahed by the scheming but impotent Sir Jolly Jumble.

As Sir Jolly, David Bamber seems more comfortable with the material, relishing his role as a randy old goat, lisping and swaying, and generally giving a full blown panto performance. The always reliable Oliver Ford Davies, as the blustering cuckold, is also entertaining – but even their combined efforts cant quite rescue this only intermittantly amusing production.

The actors are not helped by Lizzie Clachans set. Initially impressive, she has completely refigured the Young Vic space to include an ornate proscenium arch; but once the red velvet curtains are pulled back, only a further series of steps are revealed its rather disappointing. In fact the design as a whole doesnt feel particularly well thought through, as the actors end up spending far, far too much time dashing up and down all these steps; all this running about adds little to an already tangled plot. The reshaping of the space has also had a negative effect on the sightlines, with one scene, set in a mens bath-house, played out in a pit on one side of the theatre that the audience on the other side seemed to have trouble seeing into.

Lan is clearly fond of Otways bawdy comedy and boasts in the programme notes that he only had to snip 5% of the original text. However, at nearly three hours in length, you soon feel yourself wishing hed hadnt been quite so reverent. There are some glittering moments, but moments are all they are theyre too few and far between, especially in a production of this length. There are too many awkward gaps where nothing much actually happens. I found myself checking my watch towards the end, not a good sign.

Ultimately the fault is with the source material, Otways play isnt quite in the same league as Ethereges, the plotting is flabby and the ending anti-climactic. The cast do their best, but no-one seems quite sure what theyre trying to achieve with this revival. A lot of effort and energy have been expended on this, but perhaps this was one play best left on the shelf.

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