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Love's Sacrifice - RSC Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Visually Stunning RSC Revival
Reviving this long neglected play by John Ford was a personal preference by the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) renowned artistic director Gregory Doran when a shortlist came under discussion in 2013.

In the end, director Matthew Dunster was selected to make his RSC debut with Love's Sacrifice at Stratford upon Avon's Swan Theatre and Doran was there, ready and waiting, to see the result of his choice. I'm sure he won't have been disappointed.

Love's Sacrifice1
A revival of John Ford's Love's Sacrifice being performed at the Swan Theatre

Dunster has created a visually stimulating and stylish version of the tragi-comedy about a love triangle between the Duke of Pavia, his beautiful wife Bianca and his best friend Fernando. It is made all the more complicated as the Duke's sister is in love with Fernando and plots revenge when she realises she cannot win over his heart.

Around the sidelines are some colourful characters that bring an element of comedy to the proceedings too. There's irresponsible lothario Ferentes, who is having it away with every woman he seems to meet, and a ridiculous gentleman, Mauruccio, who hopes to win over the affections of the Duke's sister but is the butt of everyone's jokes.

Mauruccio, by the way, is played with wonderful zest by likeable Matthew Kelly, the one-time TV presenter of You Bet. He sizzles with excitement and foolishness, which quickly won over the audience and earned him applause every time he was on stage.

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Matthew Kelly, known for presenting You Bet, won applause for his comedy role

Although this rarely performed play - barely revived since the 17th Century, when it was created - is described as echoing Shakespeare's Othello, it has more humour than that. This version is passionate and funny, but there's also doom hanging around every corner (but then it is based on the true story of a prince who murdered his wife and lover).

Ford's work has been criticised for radical shifts in the story's tone, but this production makes the storylines crossover and the action more seamless, especially as the drama is split between the main stage and a high walkway.

It's an exciting opening to distinctive string music during a frenzy of activity when the audience is quickly introduced to the key characters. The stage is beautifully enhanced by a huge screen that cleverly acts as a backdrop - whether it's creating cavernous palace corridors for characters to walk down or stained glass windows in a church.

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Matthew Needham is an enigmatic Duke of Pavy

It's a very sensory experience. Impressive special effects show ultrasound images projected on to the stomachs of pregnant women in a scene when the lothario gets his come-uppance; while spotlights flare at the audience during the most passionate and angry moments of the play.

Visually, Dunster has made chess a key theme for this story of manipulation and power. Among the players, on this often black and white set, are the 'queens' - the king's wife Bianca (mostly in white) and the king's sister Fiormonda (notably in black).

In one scene, the characters move in slow motion across a chequered floor as though they are pieces in a game of chess. It is just one of many carefully crafted and choreographed moments in this entertaining production.

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Catrin Stewart as Bianca, who inspires passion in her husband and his best friend in Love's Sacrifice

There are many similarities with Shakespeare's works in this play and in true bard style, the various storylines are weaved together as the lightheartedness of the first section dissipates into a bloody and lusty affair.

What this production emphasises is the treasure that can be found in revisiting old works with new eyes. It will make you wonder why the RSC waited so long.

Rating: 8/10

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Jamie Thomas King stars as Fernando

Love's Sacrifice by the RSC
Swan Theatre
Stratford upon Avon
Until June 24, 2015

Tickets cost from £10 from the RSC website or by calling 0844 800 1110.
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Why? Revival of a passionate and bloody play
When: Until June 24, 2015
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From £10
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