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It has been a while since we had any serious contestants for the Most Acting award. And usually the candidates are actors who let us know that their acting skills are larger than their roles, they show off their vocal colours, their breath control, their intellectual analysis of nuance. But in this production of Thomas Otway’s 1681 comedy The Soldiers’ Fortune, Oliver Ford Davies (as Sir Davy Dunce) and David Bamber (as Sir Jolly Jumble) compete for the Most Acting category even while showing that they are in fact thoroughly limited actors. Davies’ method is principally to bellow, but also to ski bumpily down his sentences on long unwieldy slopes, to whinny like hell, and now and then to add a whimper. Bamber’s technique is to tilt his head sideways, to peer through narrowed eyes, to sway his torso and arms, to splay his hands, to ping final consonants like drop-shots, and above all to speak in a bizarrely accented kind of florid chant – all reducing a character to the same kind of two-dimensional cartoon.

In The Soldiers’ Fortune, Davies or Bamber seem to have no directorial editing whatsoever and so are at their worst. For those who are more allergic to a dearth of acting than to excesses of it, the production boasts Kananu Kirimi’s singularly underinflected Sylvia. One actor alone emerges with some degree of distinction: Ray Fearon as Captain Beauregard, handsome, forceful and speaking the lines with stylishly brisk clarity.

The diagonal staircases and elaborate baroque proscenium arch of Lizzie Clachan’s set demonstrate the dimensions of which the rebuilt main Young Vic theatre is now capable. And yet who can rejoice in being there? The whirr of heating/air-conditioning makes the experience acoustically awkward, the neoclassical tangos composed by Tim Sutton more so. And so Otway’s play collapses into merest Restoration-comedy formula. The cuckold, the fop, the courtship, the farce situations, the longer-than-long sentences with their pile-up of subordinate clauses; I remind myself that, in the right hands, I love all this. But here? A pox on ’em. ★☆☆☆☆

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