Theatre Review: The Way Of The World Is Fuelled By Wit

The Way Of The World, Donmar Warehouse ★★★★☆

By Matthew Holder Last edited 24 months ago

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Theatre Review: The Way Of The World Is Fuelled By Wit The Way Of The World, Donmar Warehouse 4
Photo: Johan Persson

Update: All performances of The Way of the World have been cancelled until 16 April, due to the sad and sudden death of actor Alex Beckett. Read more here.

James McDonald's pin-sharp staging of William Congreve's 18th century classic, The Way of the World, is founded on layers of dizzying deception. However, wit is the fabric that fuels the performance. Baroque music? Tick. Gentleman's club and drawing room? Tick. Opulent clothing? Tick. Hilarity? Big tick.

Centred on a double plot of two seeming friends, Fainall (Tom Mison) and Mirabell (Geoffrey Streatfield) who are each trying to secure marriage on the best possible terms. Commanding the play's centre, Lady Wishfort is brilliantly realised by Haydn Gwynne, as she veers effortlessly from sweet vulnerability to petulance to outrage. Her efforts to attract her fake lover delights the audience with the different 'positions' she rehearses to 'receive' him.

The comedy dial turns even higher in Witwoud and Petulant's pedantic exchanges that echo more serious debates about the new puritan sensibility. Witwoud's camp and Petulant's foppish, laconic manner, dreadlocks and gliding walk all signal the play's contemporary feel.

Congreve's clever balance between enjoying these inventive and sharp-minded individuals and exposing their shallow feeling, comes to the fore in a wonderful debate between Mirabell and Millamant (Justine Mitchell), where love and law battle for supremacy. Finally, in keeping with the times, it is the contract that seals the play's ending and not the sword.

The Way of the World, Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, WC2H 9LX, £10-£40. Until 26 May

Last Updated 12 April 2018