The Belle’s Stratagem is a play by Hannah Cowley from 1780. Despite its initial success, it hasn’t been put on in Britain since 1888, which, I think, is a shame.
It is a great little romantic comedy and feels surprisingly modern, but not too modern. This particular production by Red Handed Theatre Company under the direction of Jessica Swale is based on three different scripts and has been significantly shortened, but it feels very compact and the story flows very well. The language has been updated, so it is easy to follow the dialogue, but it is still very much a play of its time. I also really liked the addition of more contemporary lyrics in the songs.
The cast is very strong and they work incredibly well together. Gina Beck is charming as Letitia Hardy and her voice sounds as beautiful as always. Michael Lindall is excellent as her husband-to-be, Doricourt. His portrayal of a mad man is one of the funniest things I have seen in a while. Joseph MacNab and Hannah Spearritt (Yes, from S Club 7, but I wouldn’t have recognised her if I didn’t read it in the programme) have some wonderful scenes as Sir George and Lady Frances Touchwood. Christopher Logan proves that he has excellent comic timing and is simply hilarious as Flutter, as is Cassandra Bond (Kitty Willis), especially in the masquerade scenes. For some reason, Tim Dorsett (Villers) stood out a bit for me (in a good way). He had great stage presence and seemed to enjoy every single second he was on stage.
Marc Baylis, Holly Blair, Jackie Clune, Samuel Dent, Mark Fountain, Jeremy Joyce, Nigel Munson, Robin Soans and Maggie Steed are all great in their respective parts and add so much to the overall enjoyment of the play.
I really enjoyed seeing a play I knew absolutely nothing about. It is witty, sometimes silly, but an absolute treat to watch. It finishes its run at the Southwark Playhouse this Saturday, 1 October, so grab your tickets while you still can!