Watermill - The Clandestine Marriage
1st August to 15th September 2001.
Timothy Sheader's new production of this classic comedy will turn the whole of the Watermill into the stage, with much of the riotous romance happening in the gardens around the theatre. This is the improbable tale of Fanny Sterling and her secret marriage to her beloved Mr Lovewell, plus an interfering aunt, a jealous sister, a social climbing father, an ageing lothario and his nephew.
This is from the Newbury Weekly News.
Madness at midnight
'THE CLANDESTINE MARRIAGE', at The Watermill, until Saturday, September 15
Given the vagaries of British weather, it was no surprise that during this ambitious production which involves the audience following the action out into the garden, the heavens opened and sent everyone scurrying back into the theatre.
This charming and frothy production, directed by Timothy Sheader, is set in 18th-century England, and revolves around a young girl, Fanny Sterling's boldly secret marriage to Mr Lovewell, and the scampering romps that ensue as she attempts to continue undetected.
A swirl of delectable characters, from mob-capped serving girls, to affected aristocracy were a delight, swishing about in gilded, bejewelled costumes, while flapping lace hankies to great effect. Exaggerated mannerisms, facial expressions and gestures were honed to perfection, while love-sick, sighing girls, panting, breathless and excited, set a frantic pace.
Good use was made of the stage, the characters working all four sides and every facet of the theatre, with glimpses of them disappearing upstairs, or making conversation across the balcony, and the beautiful garden was also used innovatively.
There were excellent performances from all the cast, but the barmy Swiss manservant, Canton, played by Nick Caldecott, proved highly popular with the audience, replete with Clouseauesque French accent, and memorable for a scene seated outside on a boat on the river, singing away madly. What a brilliant ad-libber he is.
Equally good were Jane Cameron as Fanny, Clare McCarron as Fanny's jealous sister, Miss Sterling with a highly entertaining fisticuffs scene between the pair - and Christina Greatrex as their aunt, the matriarchal Mrs Heidelberg.
Robert Benfield also gave a sharp performance as Fanny's money-orientated father, Mr Sterling, in a spivvy, Cityish way, while Sarn Dastor as the doddery Lord Ogleby was a perfect foil to his manservant Canton.
Minimal scenery laid emphasis on the delightful characters and the gravity of harpsichord music was lightened by comically misplaced notes, with the whole thing ending in mad midnight chaos.
'The Clandestine Marriage' is amusing rather than side-splittingly funny but an endearingly light-hearted production.
This is Newbury Theatre's view.
I've never been really comfortable with the comedies of the 17th and 18th centuries. I don't know why, but I don't seem to find them as funny as other people do. So I didn't approach the Watermill's production of The Clandestine Marriage with a great deal of enthusiasm. However, this stylish production soon had me hooked.
The story is of two lovers, Fanny and Lovewell (Jane Cameron and Richard Glaves), who have secretly married, and the misunderstandings resulting from two other men fancying Fanny. As usual in this type of comedy, the hero and heroine are played straight, and the rest of the cast are able to go gloriously over the top. We got some wonderful character acting from them: Robert Benfield as the bluff, noveau riche father, Mr Sterling; Clare McCarron as the spoilt daughter, hoping to marry into the gentility even if it's someone she doesn't love (scorning her sister Fanny's "love and a cottage" in favour of "indifference and a coach-and-six"); Christina Greatrex as the aunt with the strangled vowels; Nick Caldecott as the wildly camp Swiss companion/servant of Sam Dastor's lecherous Lord Ogleby; Alan Wastaway as the spurned lover Sir John.
The action is fast and very funny. It switches between the auditorium and five stages in the gardens, although on the night I went, our wonderful summer meant that it was all confined to the indoor stage.
Written as a collaboration between George Colman and David Garrick in 1766, The Clandestine Marriage is a bridge between the Shakespearean comedies of misunderstanding and modern farces. Timothy Sheader directed, and despite the weather it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I may change my mind about restoration comedies...