Restoration Comedy The Double Dealer Revels In Duplicitous Love
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William Congreve’s rarely performed second play The Double Dealer (1693) falls well short of his comic masterpiece The Way of the World, but it has some very amusing moments. In this web of erotic intrigue, victims are ensnared as much by their own vanity as by those deceiving them.
The convoluted plot revolves around a young couple, Cynthia and Mellefont, whose forthcoming marriage is threatened by the machinations of Lady Touchwood — whose advances have been spurned by Mellefont — and her ex-lover Maskwell (the double dealer of the title), who desires Cynthia.
A short verse prologue has been added in this production advising the audience not to worry too much about the plot — a disclaimer of sorts. The story may be a bit silly but, interestingly, it features three resourceful women who run rings around their gullible husbands in their amorous pursuits. Unfortunately, the central couple have no spark of life — they’re no Mirabell and Millamant.
Selina Cadell’s production is entertaining but uneven as it struggles to find a consistent style to deliver this high comedy of manners, with a bit too much scrabbling on the floor and even an unnecessary trouser-dropping more suited to Whitehall farce than Restoration comedy. Breaking down the fourth wall — or, rather, all four walls in this theatre-in-the round — by interacting with the audience is fine, but the nudge-nudge wink-wink approach is overdone.
The doubling Zoë Waites cleverly differentiates between Cynthia and Lady Touchwood, while Edward MacLiam is enjoyably two-faced as the quick-thinking Maskwell, whose duplicity is finally unmasked.
The Double Dealer, Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond TW9 2SA. Tickets £25, until 26 January 2019.
Last Updated 19 December 2018