WHETHER William Congreve imagined his Restoration comedy of social and monetary conniving could find resonance in 21st century Britain is debatable.
But at a time of double dip recession and bonus excesses in 2012 there’s no denying Alice director Lyndsey Turner’s revival is timely.
Naomi Wilkinson’s sparse but clever, modern but smartly lit white set begins as a pop video studio and suggests anything but 1700. But there’s an immediate and curious juxtaposition with costumes that range from the now to outrageous takes on the foppish flamboyance of Congreve’s era.
The latter, of course, suits the often painted dialogue, not least Witwoud (a perfectly affected Samuel Barnett) who exhibits the most exuberant outfits to suit his nature.
The ambiguities are swiftly absorbed, however, as the synergy of historical attitudes and enduring human nature becomes apparent; the social context may be vintage but notions of fiscal preservation and betterment through money and weaseling prevail in cash-strapped 2012.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes is just the right side of arrogance as Mirabell, the handsome but shrewd chap about town seeking to marry a well matched Millament, the fortune prospect with heals as spiky as her tongue, given dainty yet feisty life like a mini Ab Fab Patsy by Sinead Matthews, as she prepares to “dwindle into a wife”.
Daisy Lewis is another tiny dynamo as Marwood, the Alexis Carrington of a piece that ducks and twists like a boxer on a last lucrative bout while Lady Wishfort – a hilarious Deborah Findlay – confirms even society elders have dented morals as she asks “what is integrity to an opportunity?”
Much of the language is delicious and compelling, every inch as valuable as that from Shakespeare’s pen.
And with a raft of bombastic characters – the sleazy Petulant, the deceptive Fainall - among others giving this cross-thredded plot ludicrous colour, TWOTW is nourishment for the eyes and ears. It barrels along, sometimes a tad too enthusiastically, alarming a little in how many themes/extremes swiftly feel familiar.
Continues until February 25.