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Intrigue and Satire: Later Restoration Comedies cover art

Intrigue and Satire: Later Restoration Comedies

By: Aphra Behn,Susanna Centivre,William Congreve,Delarivier Manley,John Vanburgh,George Farquhar
Narrated by: Celia Imrie,Sian Thomas,Alex Jennings,Sheila Hancock,Frances Barber,Indira Varma,Julian Rhind-Tutt,Josie Lawrence,Adjoa Andoh,Hugh Bonneville,Kris Marshall,Nicholas Parsons,Peter Eyre,full cast
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Summary

A dazzling collection of comedies from the later Restoration period

England's 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 and the reign of new monarchs William and Mary signified a turning point for Restoration comedy with laws being passed to restrict playwrights' freedoms. The latter years are marked by a shift towards more moral storylines, mixing humour with social and political issues, alongside the lighthearted 'comedy of manners'.

The works in this collection bring together these complementary styles, full of humour while also focusing on hard hitting themes. We open with a 1688 piece by Aphra Behn, England's first professional female writer. Oroonoko is a powerful critique of the slave trade centring around a betrayed African prince. Adapted for BBC Radio, it stars Leo Wringer.

A pre-eminent Restoration dramatist, William Congreve was renowned for his witty dialogue and brilliant characterisation, exemplified in the plays The Old Bachelor, The Double-Dealer and Love for Love. As heard on BBC Radio, these sparkling satirical portraits of romance, deception and the battle of the sexes star James Dale, Nicholas Parsons, Michael Spice and Maxine Audley.

In her 1696 tragedy The Royal Mischief playwright and pamphleteer Delarivier Manley tackled gender politics rather than party politics. This BBC Radio adaptation stars Sian Thomas as the transgressive princess Homais, whose unrestrained sexual desire represents a threat to both the monarchy and the patriarchy.

A loveless marriage is under the spotlight in The Provok'd Wife, John Vanburgh's outspoken 1697 comedy of sex, debauchery and revenge that is Restoration comedy at its finest. Saskia Reeves stars as Lady Brute, with Julian Rhind-Tutt as confirmed bachelor Heartfree.

Irish playwright George Farquhar stormed the London stage with his 1699 comedy The Constant Couple, featuring a wealthy heiress seeking revenge, and the three rivals vying for her hand. Its popularity was mainly due to its rakish hero, Sir Harry Wildair, played in this BBC dramatisation by Alec Clunes. It is followed by William Congreve's The Way of the World, a comic masterpiece that exposes the grasping falsity of fashionable London society. Sheila Hancock stars, with Alex Jennings, Robert Glenister, Frances Barber and Indira Varma.

Susanna Centilivre's 1705 comedy The Basset Table explores several hot topics of the time: the rise of science, gambling and female education. Featuring two strong, independent heroines determined to dodge unwanted marriages, this delightfully exuberant comedy stars Eleanor Bron and Danielle Allan.

Concluding this collection are George Farquhar's two most popular plays. The Recruiting Officer, starring Paul Higgins and Lisa Dillon, is set in Shrewsbury during the War of the Spanish Succession, where wives are recruited while soldiers are wooed. Meanwhile, in The Beaux' Stratagem, starring Simon Treves and Dale Rapley, two rakes arrive in Lichfield from London in search of fortune...

Content list

Oroonoko

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 24 August 1990

The Old Bachelor

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 3 Jun 1966

The Double-Dealer

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 17 Jan 1969

Love for Love

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 18 Feb 1965

The Royal Mischief

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 28 Oct 1990

The Provok'd Wife

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 12 Dec 2004

The Constant Couple

First broadcast BBC Network Three, 9 Jun 1967

The Way of the World

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 27 Apr 2003

The Basset Table

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 10 Aug 1990

The Recruiting Officer

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 18 Dec 2011

The Beaux' Stratagem

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 19 Feb 1990

©2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd (P)2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd

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One very serious oversight

This second bundle of restoration comedies from BBC ha seriously compromised by the absence if the second half - acts 4&5 - of Congreave’s ‘The old bachelor.’ The play was the best received of his comedies, and while the interval music is featured, and in a horribly outmoded performance style, what follows is the introduction to ‘The double dealer.’ Not a word either if warning or explanation: the second half maybe was lost from an early 1960’s recording, or perhaps the quality was too poor, but the okay ad we have it us meaningless, the more so because of its extraordinary reception at its original offering. I had to go to the printed text published inPenguin for the play’s ending.
Attempts by BBC marketing to point up relevance to the present political and cultural climate are somewhat obvious and characteristically patronising: they ‘re already as clear as day, but inclusion of the three ‘fair wits’ Ben , Nankey and Centlivre may be helpful for exam candidates but hardly for those
Seeking entertainment. This said, some if the acting is understandably dated as arecrenditiins of contemporary music and some of the voices sound very similar. Where possible reference to the printed texts would be helpful if only to discover where the abridgements are.

This bundle is certainly less well presented than tge earlier one but nonetheless worth having: individual pieces - ‘The double dealer,’ ‘The recruiting officer’ and ‘Love for love’ are thoroughly enjoyable as they stand, but what was achieved by taking ‘Thecwsy of the world’ into the twentieth century while retaining the dialogue unaltered is a mystery.
This is a flawed gem, but a gem it remains.

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