‘The Way of the World’ is a Restoration period comedy play, written by Yorkshire born, William Congreve. This farce-like play was written in 1700 when William was 30 years old. Although Congreve was educated in Dublin, his use of the English language is still considered one of the best pieces of theatre writing ever. This is one of those magnificent Baroque plays that is rarely tackled, as the acting and directing skills required are mindboggling. It has taken the courage of past WA Citizen of the Year, Wiluna born Ray Omodei to take up the challenge. Although he is no chicken (sorry Ray), Ray has taken on this mammoth two and three quarter hours play for the fourth time, and produced another masterpiece. There are very few ‘Actors’ Equity Honorary Life Members’, and although this was awarded to Raymond some years ago, I am sure that he could easily earn the award again today for the quality work that he is still producing and directing. This outstanding RDO Production has been organised by The Garrick Theatre Club, and is being presented at The Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street in Guildford. Sadly there are only a few performances left, as the last evening show is at 8.00 pm on Saturday 17th March, and there is a matinée on Sunday 18th at 2.00 pm There have been slight modifications to the script’s elegant language made by Paul Shaw, but the Shakespearean and Noel Coward similarities and qualities are still there. Jake Newby’s set is minimal, and of basic design. The furniture is almost skeletal with boxy ‘oak’ frames for the tables and chairs. The walls are hessian flats. The floor is soft wadding. The stage manager was Graeme Dick assisted by Leslie Broughton. The minimal scene changes were quick and well organised. Marjorie de Caux’s costumes – well what can one say? There were 15 actors, and everyone had truly immaculate clothing. Perfect for the era, they were of the finest materials and beautifully cut. They oozed wealth and style. From the shining bowed shoes, to the outstanding wigs supplied by Liddy Reynolds. The Garrick is still using the older incandescent lamps, but in Jake Newby’s hands some tremendous atmospheric scenes were created. Even within a scene, he would carefully pick out an actor, by imperceptibly dimming the other lamps. The subtle use of the dimmers was first class.
The play opens as the extremely wealthy, desirable Mirabell (Rhett Clarke) and his jealous friend, Fainall (Kael McGrechan) are playing cards in a chocolate house. Betty, the waitress (Laura Goodlet) and a young messenger (Leo Rimmer) burst into the cafe to warn them that the troublemaker, Witwoud (Dominic Masterson) and the flowery fop, Petulant (Jonathan Hoey) are on their way in.
It is discovered that Mrs Millamant (Siobhán Vincent), who is a major manipulator, could be worth millions if she marries the right man. The suitor must be chosen with her Aunt’s permission. All of the men want to have a chance at the money.
In the love stakes, Mrs Marwood (Sherryl Spencer) tries to lead Mrs Fainall (Sarah House) astray. When Lady Wishfort (Kerry Goode) hears of Millamant’s plans to marry Mirabell, she forbids the affair, thus stopping any inheritance to Millamant.
Mirabell’s servant, Waitwell (Timothy Presant) is forced to dress up as Sir Rowland, and seduce the elderly Aunt, so she will become disgraced, and thus, Millamant will inherit unheeded.
Waitwell’s real love, Foible (Elizabeth Offer) and her friend Peg (Natalia Smith) become embroiled in the deceit. In the meantime, the Aunt has found another love of her own, Sir Wilful (Keith Scrivens). Will true love shine through?
This review may seem complicated, well the storyline was – but exceptionally well explained. Director Ray Omodei, who was assisted by Anita Bound, had to control and direct 15 actors from young teens to dear Kerry Goode, who, like Miss Jean Brodie is still ‘in her prime’. The script is written in a semi-Shakespearean style, so demands perfect enunciation. The rich script uses some words and expressions that are rarely used today, and so perfect pace is also required. For face makeup, the cast have used the fashionable, white lead face paint of the day, along with rouge and the obligatory beauty spot. With such a complex dialogue, it is easy to find the actors becoming wooden and mere ‘talking machines’, with little idea as to the meaning. In this production it is evident that Raymond and Anita have fully explained every nuance and meaning to each of the cast individually. This became obvious when each actor was able to elucidate exactly, the hidden meanings of each line. Every single actor knew their character perfectly, and displayed it flawlessly. There were some outstanding performances, but Kerry blew me away. Every hand gesture and blink of the eye showed true quality. Not only in the classical portion of the performance, but especially in the hilarious sequence when she was preparing to meet her Amour. You ‘still have it’ Kerry. This play is very long, it is in ‘Ye Olde Worlde’ dialogue, there is little scenery, and yet the audiences turned out in mass. With a highly appreciative, full house every night of the season. I find this so reassuring that the general public can accept a theatrical challenge, and appreciate the quality, instead of demanding the trite offerings sometimes seen. This is theatre of the highest quality, in direction, presentation, lighting, costume, makeup and of course the acting. A real theatrical gem.