It was just over a year ago that the Orange Tree Theatre reopened its doors following lockdown, with Shaw Shorts as the first production in its Recovery Season. Now, with the theatre back to full capacity, it presents the tenth and final production of the season, Pierre Marivaux’s The False Servant, translated by Martin Crimp.
Crimp began his career at the Orange Tree, so it feels fitting that this recovery season should close with one of his works. Marivaux’s original is nearly 300 years old, but Crimp’s translation, last seen at the National Theatre, feels entirely modern. The beauty of it is in the way it retains the style of the classics – little asides to the audience and so on – while making it feel entirely accessible.
The outgoing Artistic Director of the Orange Tree, Paul Miller, also brings a sense of playfulness to The False Servant; the already present satire amplified in the cast’s assured performances which delight the audience throughout.
Marivaux might not have a huge fanbase in the UK, but if there was a production to change that, this would be it. It is the French classics equivalent of a saucy seaside farce, with double entendres, lascivious looks, and sometimes pure erotica, running through an unlikely set of circumstances.
The Chevalier (a rich woman, pretending to be a servant and dressed as a man) is attempting to seduce a Countess (Phoebe Pryce) to prevent her from marrying the thoroughly despicable Lelio (Julian Moore-Cook). The actual servants, Trivelin (Will Brown) and Arlequin (Silas Wyatt-Barke) know the secret, and must be paid off to keep quiet, but of course it could never be that simple, could it?
In the shadow of a foreboding, modern statue, and under a canopy of metal tree branches, the cast play out the increasingly complex plot twists and turns. It’ generally fairly predictable what will happen next, but the fun comes in the way it’s delivered, usually eliciting howls of laughter from the audience.
There are a few occasions when the text feels like it’s going nowhere, with too many words being used to justify plot or character development, but thankfully these are few and far between, with the plentiful comedic moments eclipsing anything that could be classed as drudgery.
Lizzy Watts’ animated and swaggering portrayal of The Chevalier is deeply layered. Mocking looks, quick witted one liners delivered with perfect timing, or longer derisory monologues, poke fun at the misogyny of Lelio, and indeed most of the male characters. It feels like a fast paced duel, with Watt’s The Chevalier always having the upper hand. Luckily the duplicitous Trivelin is, mostly, on the side of The Chevalier and Will Brown revels in the calculated desperation of the character.
The False Servant is wildly funny and thoroughly enjoyable, those who might be put off by the thought of a French classic need not worry as Martin Crimp’s translation feels uncannily up to date. As for the Orange Tree Theatre; this production completes a fantastic season and it feels as though the theatre hasn’t just recovered, it’s blossomed.
The False Servant is at The Orange Tree Theatre until 23rd July 2022.