The TheatreguideLondon Review
This rare revival of a second-level Restoration comedy benefits from two delightful performances, but has little else to recommend it, and proves to be a pretty heavy slog for most of its three hours.
Even the best comic writers of the period - Etherege and Wycherley, for example - have defeated modern companies unable to find a fast-moving high comic style to carry them through inevitable slow patches. And with considerably less Wilde-Coward-type wit than his contemporaries, Otway simply defeats director David Lan and his hard-working company.
The play follows two impoverished soldiers in their love affairs. One of them colludes with his lady to find various ways of making her foolish husband unwittingly help them arrange their meetings, while the other man and his girl devote so much energy to insulting each other in a sub-Benedick-and-Beatrice mode that they run the risk of never getting together.
And, unfortunately, it is almost all stolid and dreary, completely lacking the snap and pacing that would let the farcical elements shine or the high style and flourish that would make it feel like a jolly romp.
Ray Fearon is appropriately manly in the lead, with Anne-Marie Duff pretty enough as the wandering wife, but neither allows their character to show much joy in their chase or their triumphs.
As the second couple Alec Newman (despite one of the sillier paste-on beards I've ever seen) and Kananu Kirimi are simply never funny and thus never particularly interesting.
What comedy there is in the evening belongs entirely to two supporting performances. Oliver Ford Davies may find little more than a comic stereotype in the cuckolded husband, but he plays that stereotype delightfully, milking every twitch, doubletake and expression of befuddlement for all it's worth.
And even more scene-stealing is David Bamber as a jolly local pimp, pander and general go-between. Always slightly tipsy, always more than slightly camp, he dances around the edges of the plot, delighting in other people's sex lives even if he can only experience them vicariously.
If the rest of the cast were
on Bamber's energy level, and the rest of the performers guided by their
director to find some equivalently almost-over-the-top way of playing
their characters, The Soldiers' Fortune could have been a delight.
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Review - Soldiers' Fortune - Young Vic 2007