The Way of the World

Alan as Mirabel in 'The Way of the World'

Mirabel in 'The Way of the World'

Cool, shining cruelty

No play would be more completely ruined by any attempt at popularization than Congreve's The Way of the World. Tonight's production is, happily, one which is classic and stylish in the best sense of those terms. One would quarrel with the work of Robin Chapman as "adapter" only on minor points, and the director/producer, Peter Duguid, restrains himself, too, making only one of the cast fall over, and that only once.

Mirabell and Mrs Marwood

It really is Warren Clarke!

No one, I suppose, would claim that The Way of the World, perhaps the most brilliant and masterly English prose comedy, is not pretty confusing in production. Charles Lamb pointed out that its effect "is prodigious on the well-informed spectator". The better one knows the piece, the more likely one is to enjoy it.

The well-oiled mechanism of the malicious plot is allowed to unwind with a splendid ease - style without camp, and completely confident style - Alan Howard's sinewy Mirabell and Gemma Jones's Millamant presiding over it with a cool, shining, intelligent cruelty which is pointed up all the more by the central performance of Irene Worth as Lady Wishfort. Here is the only unmalicious person on the scrreen, never a figure of fun despite her silliness; and Miss Worth gives her, above all, heart - which may a little upset the balance of the play, making it even crueller than Congreve intended, but gives her scenes intensity where they have often only displayed caricature.

Irene Worth as Lady Wishfort

Mirabell and Millamant (Gemma Jones)

The first 20 minutes, despite Mr Chapman's dextrous rearrangement of the text, remains confusing; anyone who embarks upon Part II, however, will be swept up by the increased pace and vitality of the play, by a marvellous display of the capacity of the English language to amuse, insinuate, ravish, until the positively Mozartian coda. Relax into the accomplished bitchiness of it all, then, and wait to be pleasured.

Mirabell and Millamant

The villain foiled!

This is the first of a season of five Restoration comedies (Annan, art the' sleepin' there below?), and it looks like being a memorable season. Tonight is certainly the best, and one of the most handsome ITV period productions one has seen.

Derek Parker

L.T. 2.3.1975

(Thanks to Brigitte Uhrmann for the colour pictures.)

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