William Congreve

Directed by
William Gaskill


The English Stage Company
(founded in 1956)

First Performance at the
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, November, 1693.

This production opened at the
Royal Court Theatre,
July 18th, 1969.

Lady Touchwood (Judy Parfitt) and her lover, Maskwell (John Castle)

The Company

John Castle….

Nigel Hawthorne….
Michael Byrne….
John White….
Geoffrey Chater….
Malcolm Tierney….
George Howe….

Hugh Sullivan….
Judy Parfitt….
Celia Bannerman….
Gillian Martell….
Alison Leggatt….
Patricia Michael….
Richard Beckinsale….
Alan Meadows….

MASKWELL, a Villain: pretended Friend to Mellefont, Gallant to Lady Touchwood and in Love with Cynthia
LORD TOUCHWOOD: Uncle to Mellefont
MELLEFONT: promised to, and in Love with Cynthia
CARELESS: his Friend
LORD FROTH: a Solemn Coxcomb
BRISK: a pert Coxcomb
SIR PAUL PLYANT: An Uxoirious, Foolish, Old Knight; Brother to Lady Touchwood, and Father to Cynthia
SAYGRACE: Chaplain to Lord Touchwood
LADY TOUCHWOOD: In Love with Mellefont
CYNTHIA: Daughter of Sir Paul by a former Wife, promised to Mellefont
LADY FROTH: A great Coquet; pretender to Poetry, Wit and Learning
LADY PLYANT: Insolent to her Husband, and Easie to any Pretender
TIM: a Boy in the Service of Sir Paul Plyant
FOOTMAN: in the Household of Lord Touchwood

and players


 September 1969



Reviewer Robert Cushman

I am now the survivor of a semi-cathartic experience. For one could only feel pity, unalloyed with terror, for any bunch of actors called on to disport themselves in Restoration wigs and costumes on one of the most stifling nights of the July heatwave. William Gaskill's production was an intelligent, leisurely and diffuse account of an intelligent, leisurely and diffuse play.

In truth my pleasure in it was affected by the heat and by the programme notes, which reminded me that the last production of this play was ten years ago (with a cast that now looks even more mouth-watering) and that I had seen it. I have measured out my life in revivals of minor classics. At all events I challenge the reviewer who described this as Congreve's most neglected comedy.

In reality, The Double Dealer is nothing but a house-party. Lord Touchwood has invited some friends down to celebrate the betrothal of his nephew Mellefont to Cynthia, an arrangement which pleases hardly anyone. Lady Touchwood, Lord T's wife, fancies Mellefont, as does Lady Plyant who is not Cynthia's mother, merely the wife of her father, who by the way is Lady Touchwood's brother. Cynthia for her part, is desired by Maskwell, who is the kind of friend with whom Mellefont doesn't need enemies. There are also Lord and Lady Froth, but they keep themselves very much to themselves.

The Froths are actually the most uncomplicatedly delightful people in the play. They are a pair of litterateurs who have met their perfect match in each other. One imagines them encountering at a party, finding themselves in complete intellectual sympathy, and going to be on the discovery. Once married, equipped with a daughter named Sappho, infidelity can only be physical. They will never be untrue to their mutual opinions. There is always a keen pleasure to be found in the discovery of a contemporary type in period costume, a pleasure incidentally which modern-dress production invariably undercuts.

Geoffrey Chater gives Lord Froth ('when I laugh, I always laugh alone') a charmingly self-absorbed solemnity. Gillian Martell, in a more elaborate portrait, equals him in intensity and adds a prim lubricity in which the seeds of the Puritan lady have come to full flower. It is merely poetic justice (a concept she would surely approve) that she should fall into the arms of the pert coxcomb Brisk--or would be if Malcolm Tierney, who plays the part, were not so undisguisably intelligent.

While they cavort the others intrigue, actors in another and on the whole inferior play. The only possible bridge between the two parties is Lady Plyant, a fantastic like the Forth but, by virtue of her attachment to Mellefont, a participant in the main action as well. Alison Leggatt's performance, though, is so hopelessly misconceived. Her lover (John White) is loutish; her dotting ill-used husband (George Howe) is very much on the right lines, but is left to follow them alone. This is the New Realist approach to Restoration comedy gone hopelessly awry, ugly and unfunny.

More pardonable is Judy Parfitt's failure to make comic sense of Lady Touchwood, the equivalent of the melodramatic scarlet women of Wilde's lesser plays. Her partner in villainy is another matter. Maskwell, who is in the abused confidence of nearly everyone in the play, has a neat trick of dismaying his victims by telling them beforehand exactly what he means to do to them. He disarms the audience too by affecting a deadly earnestness which yet acknowledges the possibility of fun. John Castle's mask would convince a saint and outwit a devil. He gives such an unexpectedly flexible performance. A double dealer works wonders.

Theatrical History of the Double Dealer

The Double Dealer, the second play written by William Congreve, was first produced in November 1693, when its author was 24 years of age. A special performance was given by Royal Command of Mary II who expressed herself delighted with the play. In 1698 the play was condemned by Jeremy Collier in his notorious attack "A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage" on the grounds that it encouraged immorality and immodesty. So, when the play was revived in 1699 we find it announced "written by Mr. Congreve; and now carefully revised and corrected, by expunging the Exceptionable Passages."

The play was frequently revived throughout the eighteenth century. Largely neglected in the nineteenth century, the play has been professionally performed in London twice in the twentieth century (at the Queen's Theatre in 1916 and at the Old Vic in 1959). The cast of the latter included Judy Dench and Maggie Smith.

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