For many seasons, the Royal Shakespeare Company has had an admirable reputation for breathing life into old masterpieces.
Congreve's 17th century piece, "Love For Love", is once again, like so much this season at Stratford, infused with new life.
Nowadays the play (the epitome of Restoration theatre) is less well-known than it used to be, and is likely enough only considered today as thesis fodder for those working their way through an advanced degree, but I have little doubt that Congreve would have been astonished to see what the admirable Selina Cadell, who has given a huge comedic blast to a fine play resulting in a wonderful evening's theatre where the house was kept on a roar for most of the evening.
As always, the theme is love, the pursuit of it, the loss of it, or the dream of it, mainly from old men pursuing much younger women, or London gadabouts, foppish, superficial and greedy, a strata of 17th century society at whom Congreve tilts unsparingly.
As Valentine (the wonderfully elegant Tom Turner, who seems made for the part) pursues the elegant Angelica (the equally gifted Justine Mitchell) he finds his penniless state a nuisance-Valentine owes £4,000 - thousands upon thousands in today's money. His rakish valet Jeremy (Carl Prekopp) fobs off suitors and outraged fathers, professional scandal-mongers and city philosophers, while Valentine in a succession of outrageous postures and a gorgeous peacock-blue satin suit, sees his inheritance passing into the hands of his brother Tom, a seafaring type whose view of the world leaves his parent a little more soothed.
A country hoyden (Jenny Rainsford wearing pink hair) turns up looking for a bloke and shrieks with un-ladylike joy when her skirts are rumpled, and so the madness and mayhem goes on, with everybody tittle-tattling, screaming for things that cannot be achieved, and apparently distributing their sexual favours with a liberality which drew condemnation for the theatre in general and Congreve in particular from the Protestant-biased middle-class.
Yet within this glorious romp, with its continual and hugely droll interaction between actors and audience Cadell never loses Congreve's critical edge thus you get his views on sexual liberality, the hypocrisy of the court and the Established church and the hypocritical politicians of the period (some things never change). And to add even more there are traditional English ballads, a cod castrato and a superb performance from Ben Easton as Ben, Valentine's younger brother, who can sing a sea shanty and dance up a storm in a hornpipe where he leads the company.
It is a fine thing to see our top theatre company reviving a classic like this with such skill and care, and there is more to come this season.
Rejoice with me for the triumphant RSC and go and see a memorable production of a much revered classic - you won't regret spending the money, and with actors like these, you will be in great company.
Until January 22 2016.