This modern version of Marivaux’s romantic 18th-century comedy has farce rather than nuanced feeling at its centre. Two orange doors gleam brightly underneath the awning of the Arcola’s new outdoor venue and creators Quentin Beroud and Jack Gamble have hired a commedia dell’arte consultant to ensure the endless door-slamming, body shimmying and dramatic swooning is all in order.
There are a few winking allusions to emails and digital detoxes but this isn’t a radical rewrite. The setting has shifted from a Paris salon to a Sloaney living room, where minor royal Sylvia (a wonderfully mischievous Ellie Nunn) is done with love. When dad Lord Orgon (David Acton, sporting a perma grin) sets up Sylvia with the refined and dishy Dorante, Sylvia decides to swap places with her maid Lisette in order to determine his true feelings. The only problem is that Dorante has done a similar switch – and so Marivaux’s class criss-crossing comedy glides into gear.
Sylvia dons a Kate Middleton-esque wig and her brother Marius (George Kemp) might have been pulled straight out of Made in Chelsea; the majority of the performances are far too heightened to draw any sort of meaningful contemporary comparison. Ammar Duffus has a gentle dignity but does not seem truly comfortable as Dorante, or when Dorante is impersonating his driver: it makes it hard to tell when the mask is slipping as both personas feel like an act. Michael Lyle, as Dorante’s driver Harlequin, pushes the physicality of his part in a forceful comic performance that needs more warmth and charm.
The two female leads create a few flickers of tender emotion amid the broad grins and even broader performances. Beth Lilly is likable as Lisette and there’s something about the commitment in her performance – her genuine desire to live the life of a rich and privileged woman – that tugs at the heartstrings. Nunn is a seriously good comic with gravitas and creates the impression of a spoilt woman who has always treated life as her plaything only to discover, at the last minute, that this game of love is one she can’t afford to lose.