Review: The Relapse

BEN BLYTH recommends the brand new Howard Theatre’s first play.

Ben Blyth downing Howard Theatre The Relapse

Tuesday 2nd – Saturday 6th, 7.45, Howard Theatre, £5-6.

Directed by Alex Lass.


‘The Relapse’ is a snapshot of the lives and loves of a host Restoration caricatures. Originally written by William Vanburgh as a means by which his best comic actor could reprise his most successful role (some things never change), The Lord Foppington, as every man in possession of a fortune, currently wants for a wife. Andrew Brock commanded as the fop, somehow fusing Joe Pasquale and a Georgian Gentleman (not like that) with the scene where he is ‘run-through’ (not like that) being particularly well done.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the marital divide, former rake Loveless (played by Hugh Grant’s long-lost cousin Josh Walker) and his untrusting wife Amanda (Sophie Rixon) are having problems. As Loveless relapses (get it) into his old ways with Amanda’s vivacious cousin Berinthia (played by a naughty Kate Mason), the marriage is torn asunder by delicious deviousness and unnervingly frequent shouts of “Stab my Vitals!”

The production team clearly wanted to create a spectacle, and not to be upstaged by the theatre itself. Alex Lass has transported ‘The Relapse’ from the unrest and recession of William the Third’s England, to a land that could only exist half-way through an episode of Blackadder the Third, and as the latter is a pastiche of regency history, so Lass’s Relapse is a pastiche of a Restoration Comedy. The removal of any grain of contextual sincerity allowed the pomposity of the text to be rivalled only by the exquisitely detailed stage dressing. The Georgian costumes were excellent, with a cast of over 20 immaculately and coherently dressed according to rank and file. Lara Prendergast and Clementine Hain-Cole deserve the plaudits here; additionally they were responsible for the excellent make-up, with equal amounts of attention being given to the leads and the lowliest of servants.  Waterhouse and Monument’s set was basic but had been designed to mirror the neo-classical Georgian buildings in the adjacent court.


Photos: Yi Sun

The entire Dowiningophillic event made me feel more than a little voyeur (Did it make me feel a big one? I hear you ask). Yet, in spite of all the trappings, I still felt something was missing. This rather transcendental experience can be traced down to the fact that, when it comes to it, this production was never funny enough to justify the opinion it had of itself. The script was consciously directed away from an emphasis on restoration jibes and towards intense physical comedy. Unfortunately this wasn’t always amusing and sometimes felt rather embarrassing to watch. Furthermore, when half the play is striving to be a melodrama (of the proto-panto school – so ham abound) the connection with the characters under emotional turmoil is much harder to maintain and, as such, scenes of prolonged emotional unravelling sat ill at ease against the throng of drunken friars, thundering nurses, and groping couplers. Add to the mix an audience of rather wealthy 60-somethings with massively inflated opinions of themselves and you a have a recipe for a prolonged stunned silence. Although these shortcomings preclude the show from earning a 4 or 5, I would still recommend going to see it. It has been well directed, with noticeable moments of genuinely entertaining insight. A good hearty theatrical meal, the only potentially devastating problem with ‘The Relapse’ is that the subliminal messaging may have sunk in and you will actually stab someone in the vitals, probably on the way home and definitely outside spoons.