THEATRE REVIEW: The Double Dealer – Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond  

Written in 1693, this is a play which hasn’t improved with time. Like all Restoration Comedies it’s a complicated, convoluted plot which involves an awful lot of lusting after the “wrong” people. It takes until the interval to work out who everybody is and it’s daft to double cast Zoe Waites whose two characters are, as played, insufficiently distinctive to allay confusion.

Jenny Rainsford is the best thing in this rather clunky show. As Lady Pliant a character who tries (and fails) to disguise neediness as assertiveness she captures the unsubtle randiness perfectly and hilariously with neatly nuanced Meg Ryan moments. Also enjoyable are her glances round at the audience (in the round and very close in the intimacy of The Orange Tree) in search of complicity. It’s a bravura performance.

Paul Reid is strong as the simpering, daft Lord Froth and Edward MacLiam delights as the outwardly warm, dastardly, duplicitous Maskwell – all bows, sweet talk and revelatory soliloquy.

Also commendable is the staging which makes interesting use of the Orange Tree’s spiral staircase and the space behind the audience in the gallery. Rosalind Ebbutt’s costumes are attractive too: lots of brocade, velvet, flat fronts, lacing along with long coats for men and shoes with ribbon bows. And when Dharmesh Patel strips to a pair of modern bright yellow underpants it really is very funny.

Overall though this wordy piece seems over long and even more inconsequential than plays of this period usually are. The witty new prologue written by Selina Cadell and Eliza Thompson and delivered by three women actors makes fun of the play’s nonsensical nature but that shouldn’t actually mean that it’s then acceptable to wallow in the triviality of it all.

Review by Susan Elkin