Forgotten play is a real gem

Animal Magnetism: Elizabeth Inchbald, Theatre Royal, Bury St EdmundsThe reopening and restoration of the Theatre Royal has proved to be a landmark in more ways than one.

Ivan Howlett

Animal Magnetism: Elizabeth Inchbald, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

The reopening and restoration of the Theatre Royal has proved to be a landmark in more ways than one. Focussing attention on what the theatre looked like, how it operated and what went on in it has enabled Artistic Director Colin Blumenau to forage for forgotten period theatrical gems. Animal Magnetism by the considerable, and, by good fortunate, locally born writer, Elizabeth Inchbald is one of them.

It's a clever three-act (though quite short) satirical farce that takes the lid off medical charlatanism. It also explores a theme dear to its independent-thinking radical author, the repressive treatment of women.


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A young woman, Constance (Ursula Early) and her companion Lisette (Sophia Linden) are kept confined by Ursula's elderly guardian, a lascivious old Doctor who wants to marry his ward. He confines her to the house to keep her away from young men. Her suitor, the Marquis de Lancy (Luke Shaw) and his man (Jack Blumenau whose character, La Fleur, loves Lisette) need to trick their way into the house. Once in, they've to con the old devil into signing the young lovers' marriage contract.

The old man, given a fine comic performance by John Webb, is a dreadful doctor whose incompetence frequently kills his patients. He falls for the simplest of dodges. The Marquis's man, la Fleur hoodwinks his way in, promising he can teach the Doctor about Animal Magnetism, an understanding of all-pervading fluids, which not only is a cure-all but can make men irresistibly attractive to women.

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The magnetism comes in the form of a magical stick. All except the Doctor, know it's a con and have to play up to it. So, at full pelt, and using slapstick and stage-farce techniques, we're into hilarious shenanigans.

The plot convolutions, stylishly performed, are great fun. Director Colin Blumenau has assembled a familiar ensemble. Sophia Linden, Luke Shaw and Jack Blumenau, for instance, were in the production that re-opened the Royal.

The lesson clearly is that the Theatre Royal has struck a vein of theatre eminently suited to being put on in Bury.

The play's part of a week of Georgian Delights. The night I was there it was paired with a recital of Georgian parlour music by Concert Royal, an ensemble that researches gems of eighteenth century music for playing on authentic instruments. This was entertaining, delicately ornamented music, but twenty minutes too long.

Ivan Howlett

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