Watermill - The Marriage of Figaro
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Watermill - The Marriage of Figaro

23rd June to 30th July 2011.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

In the years just before the French revolution, Beaumarchais’ play was considered dangerous and subversive by the King, who banned it. He was eventually persuaded to change his mind, and The Marriage of Figaro hit the French stage in 1784 (followed two years later by Mozart’s opera, and seven years after that by the execution of the King).

Now the UK premiere of Ranjit Bolt’s excellent adaptation cuts an hour off the running time and brings the language into the 21st century – which means it has to stand comparison with modern plays. But hey, Figaro is a farce, and should be judged for its fun value; nobody analyses Ray Cooney’s plots too deeply.

The Count’s servant Figaro is engaged to the Countess’s maid Suzanne, and it’s their wedding day. The Count is looking forward to exercising his droit de seigneur over Suzanne; Figaro and the Countess are determined to prevent him. In this play, the workers outwit the aristocracy – there’s reconciliation at the end, but you can see why the King got twitchy.

The small cast – Bolt has cut out many of the characters – give it their all and look like they’re having fun. Ruth Everett’s lively Suzanne is a good match for Jason Baughan’s quick-witted Figaro (there will surely be some fireworks there after they’re married). Liam Bergin is like a randy puppy as Cherubin, doubling up as the thick-as-merde Pedrille, and Philip Bird’s Count hypocritically lorded it over his minions and chattels.

Rachel Atkins, with her wonderfully expressive face and body, is glorious as the Countess. Julian Harries is splendid in the two lovely character parts of oily Bazille and bucolic Antoine. Joanna Hickman doesn’t have much to say as Fanchette but provides musical accompaniment on cello, double bass and percussion.

Kate Saxon’s fast-paced production builds up to a magnificent and hilarious final act climax in the garden (weather permitting). A great way to spend a summer evening.

PAUL SHAVE

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

The Watermill follies

Rambunctious romp in the garden is all good fun in this 18th century farce

The Marriage of Figaro, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until July 30

The Watermill's The Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais, adapted by Ranjit Bolt, is an absolute joy. This is a high-energy farce played with gusto from a highly talented cast who seem to be enjoying every minute of this comic masterpiece.

Set in 18th-century Spain, with an atmospheric design by Libby Watson, director Kate Saxon's pacey production had all the passion and pulsating desires created by those hot Spanish evenings, complemented by an evocative musical score by Sarah Travis.

The lustful Count, rambunctiously played by Philip Bird, has become bored with his wife and the village girls and lusts after his servant Suzanne - a vivacious flirty performance from Ruth Everett - who is about to get married that evening to his valet. As was the custom of the French nobility, the Count is determined to claim his right to sleep with the girl on her wedding night.

Jason Baughan perfectly captured the quick-witted and crafty bridegroom Figaro, who is determined to thwart the Count's plans. He enlists the support of the Countess, the excellent stoic Rachel Atkins, (best known for her role as Vicky Hodges in The Archers). She could change her emotions in an instant and persuades the Count to abolish this droit de seigneur. The lower orders were about to bite back as Figaro is hell-bent on defending his bride's honour.

Liam Bergin, (Danny Mitchell in EastEnders) had wonderful comic timing as Cherubin, the naive page who is in love with the Countess and, to complicate matters further, Franchette (Joanna Hickman) is also in love with Cherubin, leading to much confusion.

As in all good farces, there are many absurd and ridiculous situations. The passing of notes, only to be intercepted by the wrong person; mistaken identities; near discoveries from concealment in cupboards... all great fun.

The scene with Cherubin hiding behind the chair to escape capture from the Count is hilarious as is his escape from the room by diving through a window, real inventive humour.

Julian Harries brought some Irish drollery as the gardener whose vegetables had been ruined by Cherubin's flight.

A plot is contrived to catch the Count out, with Cherubin disguising himself as Suzanne, but the Countess decides to play this part herself and so Suzanne is disguised as the Countess as preparations for the wedding take place.

The last act is performed outside in the beautiful Watermill garden, with Figaro interacting with the audience. The Count tries to seduce Suzanne, who of course is really the Countess and the whole situation becomes an uproarious romp that is finally resolved with the Count "learning more about diplomacy in one day than you learn in a lifetime."

A thoroughly enjoyable evening that was well received by the enthusiastic audience. Bravo!

ROBIN STRAPP

Review from the Guardian.

Two stars
Something very curious happens during Kate Saxon's revival of Beaumarchais's comedy. The play premiered just five years before the 1789 revolution, and provided the inspiration for Mozart's deservedly better-known opera.

Most of this farcical comedy about the attempts of the decent servant Figaro and his fiancée, the quick-witted Suzanne, to prevent the philandering Count from exercising his droit du seigneur on their wedding night, takes place within the tiny theatre. But for the final scene, which unfolds under cover of darkness in the castle grounds, we are ushered out into the garden. That's when the little miracle happens: allowed to breathe, what seems arch and artificial in the theatre suddenly becomes quite charming; comedy too broad for the intimacies of the indoor space blossoms deliciously in the gathering dusk.

Beaumarchais's play may have seemed revolutionary in its day (particularly to Louis XVI, who stormed out of a reading once he recognised its attack on the old order), but goodness, it feels old and creaky now. Ranjit Bolt's over-perky translation knocks what elegance there is out of the comedy by playing up the nod-nod-wink-wink pantomime elements.

Even with three doors on the postage stamp-sized stage, the coiled energy of farce is hard to achieve in such a confined space, and the tendency is to over-play. There are some fine actors here, but the playing style saps the warmth from the characters – until the final 20 minutes, when the show suddenly bursts into life.

LYN GARDNER

There are reviews from The Oxford Times ("rollicking new production"), The Stage ("the exaggeration of commedia dell’arte and the swaggering surety of Restoration comedy").