The Victorian era was period of progress including within the arts. Although the moral dictates were strict, subtlety and ironic endings endowed theatre with the opportunity to poke fun at its world. W.S. Gilbert was a master of satirizing the hypocrisy of the times, and was probably one of the reasons his collaboration with Sullivan was so symbiotic and successful. His 1879 play “ENGAGED” is a convoluted farcical play about an almost middle-aged man who falls in love with every woman he meets. His family commissions another fellow to keep him from taking the fatal marital step.
Photo courtesy of David Cooper
‘Cheviot Hill’ is the woo-er; ‘Belvawney’ is his protector. An emergency train stop at the border of England & Scotland brings three locals into the mix including a ‘brae winsome lass’; her besotted laddie; and her innkeeper mother. All three have brogues so thick as to almost need Surtitles™, and devote their lives to the almighty “£”. So, Gilbert can poke fun at innate mercenary predispositions, and stereotypes the worst features supposedly attributed to the Scots.
Under the direction of Morris Panych the cast is required to overact even to a point of hamminess, and they seem to relish the opportunity of thespian exaggeration. The women are avaricious and bitchy; the men slightly injudicious; the humour and the state of affairs are telegraphed but they still glean giggles on cue.
Julia Course & Martin Happer are the young Scots; Gray Powell is ‘Cheviot’ and Jeff Meadows his contracted protector. Fiancées 2 & 3 are Nicole Underhay and Diana Donnelly – both have all the attributes requisite to stop Cheviot in his tracks and be on the receiving end of his oft-repeated pick-up line about “You are the tree, etc.”. Even the maid (Claire Jullien) is subjected to this verbal assault. Powell has so many physically-annoying mannerisms that one begins to believe that even a big bank account wouldn’t be enough to attract many damsels. I was seriously light-in-the-purse, but STILL managed to nab Terry! Meadows is a well-cast nemesis both physically and in-role interpretation. The two engaged ladies seem to delight in the concept of ultimately managing their intended’s cash flow and then remaking him into what will be a more malleable spouse. Their interaction is some of the play’s highlights.
The production’s original concept is burlesque, (or burley cue back in my Montreal days). So, we have the requisite funny asides to the audience (about cell-phones etc.); and the mandatory magic tricks, which BTW, I enjoyed! I also couldn’t help but be fascinated by Course’s ‘Maggie’, accent and all.
ENGAGED is at the Royal George Theatre in NOTL until Oct. 23rd.
*** For Jeopardy trivia fans, the W.S. in W.S. Gilbert stands for William Schwenck. No wonder he preferred to use only his initials!