The Crucible’s latest, The Way of the World, presents a contemporary twist on William Congreve’s classic restoration comedy. Written in 1700, Lyndsey Turner’s interpretation is incredibly fresh, blending contemporary settings and styling with a period twist. The look of the play is clearly inspired by the theatrics of pop stars such as Lady Gaga as well as the worlds of high fashion, as 18th and 21st century fashions are effortlessly blended by designer Naomi Wilkinson.
The mostly young cast emphasise the newness and vitality of this production, with standout roles for Samuel Barnett as Witwoud, Richard Goulding as Sir Wilfull, Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Mirabell and Sinead Matthews as Millamant. However, all of the cast members give exuberant performances, and even those with minor roles such as Kirsty Woodward (as Mincing and Betty) and Harry Waller (as John and Servant) capture the stage and receive their fair share of laughs – and this is a very funny production. In a few places, some of the lines did feel a little rushed and a couple of the actors felt at times as if they were over-reaching in their performances, but it was a nice change to see a cast on the Crucible stage dominated by the under-30s.
This very contemporary take on the play has an appropriately bold set design, and here Naomi Wilkinson really excels. The predominantly white backdrop utilises bold colours such as purples and oranges for the costumes, scenery and lighting to set each scene. On paper this might sound rather garish, but in practice it works very well. The addition of windowed areas in the back wall and a water feature in the second half add to the memorable design, as does a large portrait of the wonderful Deborah Findlay as Lady Wishfort which is almost worth the admission price alone.
The pacing is not quite right in every act – the play opens incredibly boldly - although, I suspect, divisively - with the whole cast recording a pop video featuring Mirabell, but once this is over, the first act (of five) lags a little and is not quite as confident. The performers look a little lost on the stage as props are removed around them, and the television studio setting here feels much less confident than the designer boutique and house and garden sets which follow in later acts (although there is a brilliant reference back to the opening scene later in the play which had the whole audience laughing when it occurred). The early scenes are also a little over-complicated as the plot is set up - and pacing picks up much faster when we reach Lady Wishfort's house in Act 3.
Whilst this production may have a few flaws, watching this production feels like a glimpse into the theatre of the next few decades – the freshness of the direction, design and performances hint at exciting things to come from the creative team and cast alike.