The Gentleman’s Stratagem – Review

Mar 18 2014 | By More

★★★☆☆  Mannered

The Vault: Tue 18 – Sun 23 march 2014
Review by Thom Dibdin

Subverting and reinterpreting old work seems to be a speciality of young company Charlotte Productions and The Gentleman’s Stratagem, at The Vault all week, is a fine example of that.

Director Laura Witz has taken a pretty standard early 19th century play by actress Maria Kemble and, with one deft and simple twist, given it a whole new 21st century life.

Earnest and his suitors. Photo: Donald Tainsch

Earnest and his suitors. Pic: Donald Tainsch

Kemble’s Smiles and Tears, or The Widow’s Stratagem, is a comedy of mistaken identity, hurt ego and canny strategies. It’s set on the night of a masked ball, where lords and ladies dote on each other without realising who they are falling in love with.

Witz’ twist is simply to swap the genders of her characters, a move which makes for a much more gutsy production all round, although it reduces the impact of some of the motivating forces which drive the plot.

In The Gentleman’s Stratagem Lord Earnest, played with a nicely pompous sincerity by George Selwyn Sharpe, is the nephew and ward of Mrs Stanly (Shannon Rollins), a rich widow who has the power to cut him off if he doesn’t marry the woman she would like him to.

He has to shake off the unwanted attentions of the excellently obsequious and insincere Saskia Ashdown as gold-digger Lady Delaval so that he can marry his sweetheart, Miss O’Donolan – a lady without either title of money who Rebecca Smith gives just the right obsessiveness to spring a few warning bells for their future.

But his real mission for the evening is to dupe his friend Mr Belmore, who Byron Jaffe gives a somewhat ineffectual drift, into meeting and falling in love with Florence Bedell-Brill’s definitely obsessive Lady Henrietta.

“truly supercilious attitude”

The two soon-to-be lovers have never met but are locked in a vicious court action against each other – which they have inherited from their parents. Since Henrietta is on the point of winning the suit and bankrupting Belmore, Earnest’s solution is to get them to marry and call the whole action off.

On the blanket-sized stage of the Vault where, in this shoe-string production, there is not much room for hot masquerade action, it is all fairly wordy stuff. It might not be Wilde, but given sharp and tight performances it should rollick along well enough. And, indeed, there are one or two performances which have the edge to do so.

When Bedell-Brill’s Henrietta and Smith’s O’Donolan believe they are both in love with the same man, there is a superb level of vicious superficiality, while Ashdown has the truly supercilious attitude of a charlatan when Lady Delaval is worming her way into the affection of the Aunt in order to gain access to the nephew.

But although the company keep the exchanges clear, there is not quite enough snap and crackle to them. It will no doubt come over the run, but for the present it needs to be tighter and have just a bit more poise. Only then will the full delight of the gender switch begin to be apparent.

Running time 1 hr 5 mins.
Run ends Sunday 23 March
Daily 7.30pm.
The Vault, 11 Merchant Street, EH1 2QD
Details of Charlotte Productions on:
Tickets from XTS-Pro on


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