Tuesday 13th to Saturday 17th January 2004
The Relapse or Virtue in Danger, was written as a response to Colley Cibber’s Reform comedy Love’s Last Shift, and was Vanbrugh's first performed play. It was completed after his extended travels abroad as an architect to the aristocracy – which might explain his unusually non-judgmental (that’s to say, atypically British) approach to sex. Vanbrugh has a mellow, rough sexiness and an easy cynicism which must have cut through the period’s relentlessly sentimental treatment of comedy. He deals with one essential transaction in The Relapse, from which all the comedy spools: the Widow Berinthia, a thorough hypocrite but a sophisticated and modest woman, tries to set up her married cousin Amanda with Worthy, a young buck-about-town, so that she might find peace and time to enjoy Loveless, Amanda’s bored husband. A subplot concerns the perilous and devious scheme by one brother to marry the other’s intended in order to reap her considerable fortune. All this clambering ambition, both social and sexual, is epitomised in the absurd Lord Foppington. For Vanburgh, he represents its apotheosis, its supreme grotesqueness. This is a man, who after blowing a fortune in order to acquire a prestigious barony, feels moved to announce: ‘Tis an unspeakable pleas-ahh to a man of high quah-lit-ay, strike me speechless. While I was a knight I w-ahs a very nauh-sous fellow! Well, it’s worth L10,000 well spent, stap me vitals!’.
Despite the title of this play, there is very little virtue to worry about. Vanbrugh revelled in the narcissism, affection and vanity of his characters. But his plays, like his architectural statements, are calculated counterblasts to his period’s obsession with everything sentimental.
The Relapse is a fine example of a restoration comedy, being full of amorous intrigue, greed and self interest. The plot has elements of modern farce and pantomime with confusions and gross characterisations aplenty.
I decided to update it slightly to the early 1800s, the final period of excess and liberal morals before the Victorians brought a veneer of respectability and social restraint upon the population. The inspiration came from seeing a cartoon of the time by George Cruikshank. This was a time when the extravagantly dressed Bucks, so full of their own importance, held sway giving ample opportunity for Lord Foppington to literally "lord it" above everyone else.
My initial idea has been cleverly interpreted by John Hamon designing a set to echo the cartoon and Serena Brown developing a costume style to complement the extravagance.
But above all, it is just great fun!
None of the characters are very nice as they are all out to maximise their own interests., but somehow you just cannot help liking them.
In the words of Coupler "Enjoy our play!"
|Lord Foppington||John Souter|
|Tom Fashion||Brian Stansbridge|
|Sir Tunbelly||David Jupp|
|Miss Hoyden||Hannah Stansbridge|
|Sir John||David Pike|
|Tailor/Shoemaker etc.||Hazel Burrows|
|Tunbelly's Servant||John Carrington|
click on a photo to enlarge it