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Robert Tanitch reviews Marivaux’ The False Servant at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, Surrey

The plays of the great French writer Marivaux, famous for their wit and subtle psychological insights, deserve to be revisited more often. The marivaudage (once, but no longer, a swear word) needs the most posh and aristocratic performances.

The wrong servant, which premiered in 1724, is all about money and sex and sexual ambiguity. Martin Crimp provides intelligent translation.

A young heiress (Lizzie Watts) dresses up as a chevalier to observe the behavior of her future husband (Julian Moore-Cook). She discovers that he is already engaged to a countess (Phoebe Pryce) who is worth 6 million francs and whom he wants to abandon so he can marry her, but only because she is worth 12 million.

Totally lacking in integrity, he treats women with the utmost contempt. It lives in the 18th century and is a typical product of its class. He thinks it’s improper to love a woman and admit it publicly. Once they are married and the money is in his pocket, his wife is taken to the country.

He owes the countess 10 million francs. The debt can only be canceled if she falls in love with someone else and dumps him. He persuades the chevalier to court her. What interests the Chevalier is how far she can go and how far the others let her go. The role was written especially for the great actress Silvia, Marivaux’s lover.

18th century comedies are full of women dressing up as men. Transvestite roles were extremely popular with actresses and male viewers alike because they offered the actress a chance to show off her legs.

The wrong servant at its premiere owed much of its success to the comic role of Trivelin, the insolent servant, a prototype for Beaumarchais’ Figaro: “Show me a moral obligation,” he says, “and I’ll run a mile.” Will Brown’s performance is accurate right and he and Moore-Cook are very amusing when they parody an erotic encounter.

Paul Miller’s revival, played in the round on a corn-themed floor, carries its cynicism with a light touch and is never as cruel and uncomfortable as the characters and the play itself.

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Robert Tanitch reviews Marivaux’ The False Servant at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, Surrey

Source link Robert Tanitch reviews Marivaux’ The False Servant at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, Surrey

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