Lovers and Liars : A David Garrick Double Bill
Luke De Belder
From the start, I’ve felt that the themes explored by Garrick in this play – the tensions between wealth and poverty, the difficulties of courtship, the growing strength of women, and the relationship between master and servant – provide a great scope for potentially locating it within different periods. I felt that modern day would be one such relevant period, especially with the financial crises of recent years and the issue of Gayless’ poverty. An even more potent connection could be made with 1920s Britain, a time and place where society was undergoing tremendous shifts. I felt this period lends itself well to becoming the setting of our story. During that economic crisis the estates of the upper classes were beginning to crumble as the lower classes gained more strength. The older generations of the social elite were striving for traditional values, while their younger counterparts were seeking new ways of living, spurred on by the growing freedom in the United States at the same time. Considering the characters of Melissa and Kitty, women especially were facing a new emancipation, but there was, again, a tension in the upper classes for young women to live by traditional norms and values. I felt there were parallels between Gayless, who has lost all his money, yet is desperately trying to conceal this to protect his reputation, and the fate of many during the depression which started in 1929.
Another element of The Lying Valet that I am keen to explore is the potential for physical comedy. We have learned that characters’ physicality was often used to provide humour in the farces of the 18th Century, inspired by the previous influence in Europe of Commedia dell’ Arte. In consideration of the 1920s, such a stylised and precise tradition suggested another strong link in the physical comedy of film stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd; all of whom, in their turn, took inspiration from the vaudeville and variety styles of theatre which in turn, are rooted in 18 Century theatre. I have been wary about such a connection as experienced directors warn of focusing too early on a theme. Brigid Larmour says, ‘I don’t tend to start with the grand scheme and then stick to that; I tend to look at the details and the contradictions and evolve the grand scheme out of that’ (Manfull 1999, p. 47). However, as we began the rehearsal and design process, I saw more and more justifications for this decision. Jan Bee Brown, a well respected theatre designer, came to work with us on our early concepts and, upon her first reading of the play, she had also pictured it set in the twenties. Further research into the period told us that the 1920s was a time where farce was once again in vogue in the theatre, with bedroom farces with the likes of Aldwych Farces written by Ben Travers, receiving positive reviews and attracting large audiences.
The Miss in her Teens production team have decided to set their play in its original period (mid 1700s). By updating our production, we feel we will provide variety, making the two plays further engaging, whilst highlighting the theatrical links between the periods and the themes of love and courtship presented in both plays. There is still further research to be done into the differences and similarities of the socio-economic climates of each period, and working with the other group to ensure a smooth transition across the ages.
Manfull, Helen. (1999). Taking the Stage. Methuen Drama: London.