The Soldier's Fortune
At its best, in the early stages, Otway's Restoration comedy from 1681 is both inventive and very funny. However, it loses its way and by the end of three hours has almost completely run out of steam.
It tells the story of a pair of lovers, who are thwarted in their passion because pretty young Clorinda is married to the Pooteresque Sir Davy Dunce, a cuckolded husband so old that he might better have been cast as her grandfather.
Anne Marie Duff's Clorinda loves Captain Beaugard, the handsome soldier of the title, played by Ray Fearon. In parallel, his comrade, Courtine (Alec Newman) has fallen for her innocent young cousin Sylvia (Kananu Kirime). For both couples, courting is best done by way of insult, which is novel and great fun.
The catalyst for the lovers' meetings is their always effete, foppish neighbour, Sir Jolly Jumble, given joyous life by David Bamber, who also plays a mean piano. He is a self-confessed pimp who seems to relish young flesh regardless of gender.
He and Clorinda between them scheme to run rings around Oliver Ford Davies' symbolically one-eyed Sir Davy. The foolish knight seems almost wilful in his efforts to avoid seeing his wife's misdemeanours. He even acts as unwitting go between for the lovers and at one point invites the enemy into his own marriage bed, admittedly while under the impression that he is dead.
David Lan's production is set almost in the round by Lizzie Clachan with a stately proscenium arch at one end, behind almost all of the action and steps on many levels. In the middle are a crew of five musicians who play with a jazzy style and, when required, also act.
By the end of an entertaining first half, Otway seems almost run to have out of ideas, after using several plotlines that might have been borrowed from Shakespeare and others of his own invention. While there are still further really funny lines and ideas thereafter, they become few and far between, as the playwright apparently struggles to find an appropriate way to bring down the final curtain.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher