Touch of class

BANG! With shocking suddenness, the doors were flung open by a liveried pair and in swept a magnificent personage - only Trivelin, the Prince's manservant, as it turned out.

A starting pistol couldn't have brought the audience at the Gate Theatre's The Cheating Hearts to attention more smartly. The play was on and so, from those first galvanising moments, was the heat. How was Pierre Marivaux's comedy performed in 1723? A little laboriously, with much slapstick, one would guess. Britain's Gate Theatre bursts into action and the pace never slackens.

Neither does the attention to detail. Even the lift of an ironic eyebrow has a deliberateness verging on choreography, yet director Laurence Boswell largely avoids contrivance in this hugely entertaining period piece.

In Ranjit Bolt, he has an inspired translator. Harlequin, the yokel, may utter a few asides like ''bollocks!'' but setting and sentiments belong firmly to the age of hooped skirts and barbed witticisms.

As in Dangerous Liaisons, seduction is central to The Cheating Hearts, but here the motivation is love and there are morals to be digested, even by the most cynical and gluttonous.

Can Silvia and Harlequin survive the machinations of those arch-sophisticates? Will the Prince and that consummate temptress Flaminia triumph? What fun the Gate provides before all is resolved.


Valentino lives again in John Baxter's Prince, all smouldering eyes and passion-flared nostrils, while Sara Mair-Thomas's Flaminia must tempt grown men to weep with regret that they were born a couple of centuries too late.

A snap of their aristocratic fingers and they could have their pick of the court - yet they yearn for a couple of grubby peasants.

Boswell exploits the great class divide for all it's worth, but The Cheating Hearts never descends to outright farce thanks to Anna Healy. This Silvia may be straight off the farm, but she's no pushover.

In the tradition of Comedia Italienne, Marcello Magni (Harlequin) plays for laughs - and gets them - but buffoonery isn't at the expense of credibility. A funny little man, but yes, you can see why the exquisite Flaminia is so stirred.


Deft performances also come from Sian Webber (Lisette) and Kevin Moore (Trivelin/Lord) and enhancing all are those ravishing costumes and the simple, yet evocative set. A brilliant lesson for anyone aspiring to a career in stage design.

The Gate Theatre, The Cheating Hearts, Arts Centre, Shouson Theatre, February 18-23