The Game of Love and Chance
Reviewed – 19th July 2021
“The Arcola Theatre continues its well deserved reputation for offering quality theatre with this show”
Pierre de Marivaux’s classic comedy The Game of Love and Chance has just opened in a sparkling revival at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney. The eighteenth century script is newly adapted by Quentin Beroud and Jack Gamble (who also directed) and brought up to date in a modern dress production. Staged outdoors (a blessing on a hot and sticky July night) there is a lot to enjoy in this show, and the energetic performances of the cast of six.
The plot of The Game of Love and Chance is simple enough. It’s a classic because of the way in which Marivaux sets it up, and then turns the screws by introducing complication after complication. Sylvia, a wealthy and aristocratic young woman, is expecting a visit from her betrothed, Dorante, whom she has never met. Sylvia begs her father for an opportunity to get to know him without his knowledge of who she really is. She wants to change places with her maid Lisette. She is a typical Enlightenment woman, more afraid of a man’s mind (or lack of it) than his heart. Her father Orgon readily agrees, having just received a letter from Dorante’s father proposing that Dorante woo Sylvia, also dressed in a servant’s disguise. Both fathers want to give their children the chance to fall in love without the distraction of wealth or family position. Of course it all gets hilariously convoluted before Dorante and Sylvia (and their servants Lisette and Harlequin) are happily, and appropriately, mated in their “game of love and chance.”
The Game of Love and Chance owes a lot to the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, and despite the modernized setting, adaptors Beroud and Gamble have remained true to that. There are multiple opportunities for lazzi, or comic routines, both on and off stage. The set, designed by Louie Whitemore, and tucked into a corner of the Arcola Outside, is the perfect space for all the comic business that must enacted before the lovers are finally united. “Marivaudage “ or the banter that Marivaux’s dramas are famous for, is also present, not only on stage, but also in the delicious back and forth that Lisette (played by Beth Lilly) engages in with the audience. The script keeps the audience laughing with a lively mix of rhymes (“humble crumble”), seemingly on the spot improvisation, and opportunities for sight gags. The actors are clearly enjoying themselves performing it, and spread that joy around the auditorium.
And it is the performances that really make this revival shine. Updating dramas from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can always be problematic in that they seem just modern enough for us to understand intuitively, but then there is all that class warfare business and discomfort with the idea of arranged marriages to overcome, before we can truly relax and enjoy the situation. Beroud and Gamble’s modernization of The Game of Love and Chance is not immune from the dilemmas of translating the eighteenth century to the twenty-first. Some of the solutions do seem a bit trite. Fortunately for us, however, the cast of this adaptation of The Game of Love and Chance know just how to settle us down. The whole cast works well as an ensemble, but the couple who really hold the whole thing together are the boisterously funny Ellie Nunn as Sylvia and Ammar Duffus as her lover Dorante, or, as the hilariously and spontaneously named Catflap, in his servant disguise. (You have to be paying attention to the set to see how this comes about.) Nunn and Duffus play effortlessly off one another, but it’s Duffus’ intense sincerity that keeps the whole situation grounded when the comic complications threaten to get out of hand. Beth Lilly and Michael Lyle (as Harlequin) are the other pair of seemingly mismatched lovers, and manage their lazzi (and Marivaudage) with confidence and flair. David Acton, as Sylvia’s genial father Orgon, and George Kemp as her annoying brother Marius, complete the energetic team.
The Arcola Theatre continues its well deserved reputation for offering quality theatre with this show, and it’s always worth the journey to see what they are producing. The Game of Love and Chance could be seen as a bit of an outlier in their repertoire, but if you’ve never seen Marivaux’s work, and are curious, this is a decent introduction. Just remember to take cold water with you if it’s a hot night. Laughter is thirsty work.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Alex Brenner
The Game of Love and Chance
Arcola Theatre until 7th August
Previously reviewed at this venue: