In the hands of the Orange Tree’s Artistic Director Tom Littler, the 18th century comedy ofmanners is time travelled into the 1930s, somehow fusing the molecules of George Farquhar and PG Wodehouse en route.
Beautifully designed in the round, the wood panelled stage is replete with stags’ heads and Christmas decorations in a smart country house belonging to the Hardcastles – giddily bustling Mrs H (Greta Scacchi resplendently vulgar in a permed red wigand ‘fashionable’ dress as if from a 1930s Littlewoods catalogue) and her husband (David Horovitch, superbly rumpled) who likes everything ‘old’.
Hoping to get their wilful daughter Kate (Tanya Reynolds, outstanding) married off, their plans go awry with the arrival of young Charles Marlow (Freddie Fox, fab) from London who has been duped into thinking he and his companion Hastings (Robert Mountford) have arrived at an inn rather than his Uncle’s home.
Charles is psychologically incapable of holding a conversation with a woman of his own rank but has no trouble at all flirting (and more) with those lower down the social strata.
The romantic confusions and misidentifications are as intricate as a late Shakespearean comedy and Littler directs with a pace and swing that keeps everything buoyant.
An outstanding cast rise to the occasion with style and comedic verve while keeping the sting in the tail of Goldsmith’smischievous masterpiece.