Review: 'For Love or Money' at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Adam Bruce

  • OnStage United Kingdom Critic

Alain-Rene Lesage’s 18th century comedy Turcaret is, in my opinion, one of the hardest comedies to execute for a modern audience. Having studied and performed in the play during one of my final year assessments at university, I can both appreciate and abhor its structural and narrative style, as well as its stubborn desire to remain rooted in its original time period. You can understand my apprehension and surprise, then, when I found out Northern Broadsides were staging For Love or Money, a Yorkshire-set adaptation of Lesage’s comedy by Blake Morrison. This was something I really had to see for myself at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

For Love or Money closely follows the story of Lesage’s narrative, though Morrison has decided to uproot the setting and bring us swinging into 1920s Yorkshire, where bankers rule and class distinctions are crystal clear. Rose (Sarah-Jane Potts) is a wealthy widow, the love interest of both doctor’s son Arthur (Jos Vantyler) and bank manager Mr Fuller (Barrie Rutter). Whilst Rose indulges both men and lines her pockets in the process, Arthur’s servant Jack (Jordan Metcalfe) dreams of a life above his class, and slowly but surely gives everyone a run for their money.

Turcaret is an 18th century satire, an almost dramatic pantomime that closely relies on the background knowledge of its audience to coerce them into believing in the farcical happenings and appearances of its characters. Characters appear out of nowhere and at just the right moment, and the first half deploys maximum exposition to achieve comedic payoff in the second half. It’s a play that demands a real focus from its audience – and this can an exceptionally difficult objective when characters are opaque and logic goes out of the window. For Love or Money is no different in this regard, and as such, it struggles to create an invested audience that can latch onto the characters that appear from nowhere and find themselves in tight scrapes.

Morrison’s adaptation, ripe with Yorkshire-isms that firmly root us in the valleys of my home county, albeit in a perhaps unnecessarily exaggerated manner, focuses solely on the concept of banker-bashing, as opposed to the sardonic comments on class and greedy society that its source text makes use of. As a banker-bashing play, which inevitably the audience can appreciate in these ridiculous times of financial unrest, For Love or Money works. Yet, Morrison seems to have really missed what his chosen source text is about in terms of its wider context.

Such authorial decisions leave the cast hanging in some respects. Rutter, treading the boards with his beloved company for the final time, brings his character trademark of oafish likeability to Fuller (Turcaret in the original). As the satirical bullseye that the play aims to discredit, Rutter brings him to life perfectly. However, in order for us to grasp the severity of this villain’s wrongdoings and downfall, we need to carefully acknowledge not only the time period of this adaptation, but also the fact that this character is not stupid. A money tree and an idiot willing to be shaken for fruit, yes, but he’s not stupid. If we were to understand the context of this adaptation more, perhaps brought about by firmer characterisation from this cast, then we might appreciate the characters and the banker-bashing angle Morrison’s text has gone for.

As a result of this artistic decision not to firmly invest in the characters, we’re left feeling stranded, at the mercy of Morrison’s verbose text, leaving us distanced from the comedic gems dotted throughout it. We have to rely on physical slapstick and grotesque characterisation for us to glean comedy out of the situations, which really undermines the text. That said, there are some good things to come out of this piece. Metcalfe brings a growing likeability to our hero Jack, and as the play progresses the ensemble begin to appear to be having fun. Jessica Worrall’s set design keeps things simple, showing us Rose’s innate financial insecurities and a sense of greed that results only in sparseness, both physically and emotionally, while Tim Skelly’s lighting design adds a touch of illuminating warmth to the evening’s proceedings.

For Love or Money has all of the trademark Northern Broadsides qualities: boldness, brashness and a pride in our shared home county, all of which add a distinctive flavour to every production the Broadsides bring to us. Sadly, in this production, I don’t feel that they’re enough for us to appreciate this challenging text, and while there are a few highs dotted throughout, we’re left without the necessary tools to really harvest the fruit of this adaptation.

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