Although this is a play, and a very good one at that, I am not reviewing a performance, but rather the play from the perspective of a reader. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this farce due to my participation in an amateur dramatic society. This script is poetically written, from the eloquently written speeches, by Boucicault at the striking age of 19, to the creation of such complex characters, whose troubles, though extreme, are relatable in their own sense, as he immerses the audience in the world of this 19th century comedy. The play sees eighteen-year-old Grace Harkaway betrothed to the sixty-year-old (that is right: six, zero) Sir Harcourt Courtly due to the ‘miserly’ will of her father who owed Courtly a great deal of money. If she marries the old man then she retains fifteen thousand pounds a year, which today is worth £1,990,942.46. However, the plot thickens when Harcourt’s son, Charles, begins to fall in love with Grace, and reluctantly she requites him.
Boucicault begins the play showing the womanising Charles, and the crafty Dazzle, who meet each other after a night on the town. I was amused by the running gags in this script, as Dazzle appears to be distantly related to everyone in the play, exclaiming “One of my ancestors married one of his. Adam and Eve” as he uses this excuse to find a place to stay and as a way of smoothing over issues with the law. We are also introduced to the narcissistic and pompous Sir Harcourt – he clearly thinks he is fitter and younger than he actually is, and you can't help but mock him for this – I mean the man doesn’t even know his own son's age. I enjoyed the characters ‘asides’ to the audience, that are comical even when read, as you can imagine a Fleebagesc moment, with characters breaking the fourth wall, often to insult their companions.
Problems quickly occur when Charles and Dazzle arrive in Gloucestershire, where they meet Grace, but Charle’s father quickly arrives after them. With the help of the valet Cool, and the stupidity of Sir Harcourt, he is able to bring about the facade of Augustus Hamilton – though he doesn’t appear to fool everyone. If you can imagine Beatrice and Benedict from A much ado about nothing, (particularly in the ballroom scene) then you can imagine the act put on by Grace, who realises the young man's charade immediately. I must say I am partial to a love story where one party thinks they are outsmarting the other but is in fact being played upon the entire time. Especially as the characters, mostly the charming Charles, show great deals of confusion switching between worrying if the other loves them or not.
Boucicault composes poetic monologues that comment on societies' expectations, most prevalently by Grace, who remarks the fashions of marriages to be business deals, in order to prevents disagreements. Beautiful speeches describe elegant countryside, that is a place of music and handsomeness, that London could never begin to compare to. I found her character to be stubborn and argumentative, but inspiring. Reading how she frequently remarks to the audience as an outlet for her views that wouldn’t be listened to if she expressed them to her predominantly male cohort.
Even though the play shows expectations of women, my personal favourite character most fight these standards, Lady Gay Spanker. What a name! She is introduced as a gleeful character who immediately makes every room light up. She instantly draws the attention of Sir Harcourt, but no story is complete without troubles, Lady Gay is married – and has little interest in running of with Sir Harcourt. The amusement grows further when her husband is introduced, such meek and timid thing, but his adoration for Gay cannot be ignored.
Although I loved reading this play, my only qualm was the suddenness of the ending. Yes, all the issues and subplots are resolved but it appears to just end, with two excellently written monologues, but they don’t necessarily add to the story, or take. But I would’ve preferred to find out more about the characters, and especially if a wedding ever actually commences – between who I shan't say, you’ll have to read it to find out.
Reading this play, and currently acting out the role of Grace, has truly brought about a greater love of older comedies and I would definitely recommend everyone to read it, or see a performance of it, as you are in for a good laugh.