These late 17th-century plays with their sea of unfamiliar words can be daunting for actors. But this disillusioned world speaks to our own age of uncertainty
Its the most terrified Ive ever been on stage, Justine Mitchell says flatly. The Irish actor shudders at the thought of the elegant romcoms of the Restoration. She has triumphed over all kinds of dramatic challenges Russian epics, Trump-era satire but shes not alone in her uneasiness. Everyone I speak to admits to an apprehensive frisson in approaching plays from the foptastic, periwigalicious world of the late 17th century.
Restoration plays come from the reign of Charles II and his immediate successors (roughly 1660-1710). In the wrenching aftermath of Britains civil wars and of Londons great plague and fire, its a disillusioned world. The fundamentals of church and state seem up for grabs; London is greedily expanding; marriage is misery but strangers are dangers. Ever worry about getting paid, getting laid or finding love? Does social anxiety prickle your palms? Do you despair of a world slipping its moorings? Restoration drama may speak to you.
For actors, the challenge involves excavating what initially seems forbiddingly unfamiliar speech and behaviour. Restoration tragedy swirls classical severity with turbulent emotion. Most enduring is Thomas Otways Venice Preserved (1682), a tragedy of broken promises, public and private. In a crumbling Venice, the callous senate provokes conspiracy, and loyalties buckle under the strain.
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