Saturday, 13 October 2012

Wild Oats.

A lovely day in Bristol watching John O'Keeffe's late eighteenth century anarchic romp, Wild Oats at the beautifully restored Old Vic. Our old friend Kim is part of the company playing the blustering sea dog Sir George Thunder.

The refurbished theatre really is a treat and the production, a perfect choice to encourage the returning audience to the space. Any city would be proud of a building like this.

The auditorium itself is invitingly intimate. The old stalls have been raised slightly to give closer proximity to the stage and the actors revel in the complicit relationship that is suggested by the new space. It's hard to imagine a better playhouse for restoration and eighteenth century revivals.

And Wild Oats is a play you need to keep a close eye on. It's a sprawling thing with a life of it's own.  Thunder finds himself unexpectedly at the house of his niece  Amaranth, who has recently inherited a large legacy on the condition that she live as a Quaker.

Thunder hoping to gain in the enterprise summons his son, Harry, to woo his rich cousin. Harry though has deserted his naval college and run away with a troupe of travelling players, led by the charismatic, if overrated Jack Rover, charmingly played by Sam Alexander.

In an ever changing plot all of course works out in the end. Rover is revelled as Thunder's long lost son. Amaranth reveals the hypocrisy of Quakerism. And Harry somehow, in a twist too far for me to follow, inherits the fortune.

In many ways it just doesn't matter that it's hard to keep up the vibrancy of the playing and the theatrical in-jokes more than make up for the sense that, like that other eighteenth century tangential experiment Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, we're rather flying by the seat of our pants, half way between the recognisable and the surreal.

Afterwards we went for a coffee with Kim, who seems to have had really enjoyed the run. The company are also doing a late night cabaret show: Does My Big Society Look Big in This? directed by the Vic's artistic director Tom Morris. The highlight of the show is offering members of the audience £200 for the best community idea of the night. Patrons have to come onto stage and promote their cause, which always leads into a lively debate about local needs and desires. It's a lovely idea to balance a satiric revue with a political forum.

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