Some of the brocades on the men’s frock coats would make Jean Paul Gaultier blush.
The play has a notoriously impenetrable plot that has baffled many of its actors even after weeks of performance.
At its heart, Mirabell (Geoffrey Streatfeild) attempts to dupe the elderly lovelorn Lady Wishfort (Haydn Gwynne), to whom he once made advances, in order to secure the hand and fortune of her niece, Millamant (Justine Mitchell).
In a plethora of counterplots, Mirabell’s fellow rake, Fainall (Tom Mison), is also seeking to defraud Lady Wishfort, his mother-in-law, with the aid of his lover and Mirabell’s discarded mistress, Mrs Marwood (Jenny Jules).
Throw in various subplots involving disguised servants and the comedy threatens to sink beneath its complications.
The battle of the sexes is such a staple of Restoration drama that one wonders if the playwrights felt it to be the primary purpose of admitting actresses to the stage.
Congreve tackled the theme with exceptional cynicism: Mirabell’s motives are too opaque and Millament’s responses too arch (exacerbated by Mitchell’s performance) for one to care about their fate.
The saving grace of the play is Congreve’s dialogue. Lines such as: “She hates Mirabell more than a Quaker hates a parrot” and “I have more pardons to ask than the Pope distributes in the year of Jubilees”, are as fresh now as they were in 1700.
They are splendidly delivered by the cast, among whom Fisayo Akinade, Sarah Hadland and the glorious Gwynne stand out.
Tickets: 020 3282 3808/ donmarwarehouse.com; £10-£40