The RSC’s latest production The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich is a brilliant comedy about women, power and social class. With towering hair, lavish costumes and a couple of dogs, it is an extravagant piece of theatre crafted with mischievous wit and flair.
Having not heard of the play, I soon discovered it was a Restoration comedy which is a particular style of theatre created after the Restoration in 1660. Previously, women weren’t allowed on stage and all parts, both male and female, were played by men. The opening of new theatres in this era was accompanied by a command that women should now play female parts, therefore comedies such as Nell Gwyn were created.
Created with wit and cynicism, The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich has all the components of this style of theatre with a strong female slant. With the RSC’s latest season consisting of all female directors, this piece really shines a spotlight on women. Mary Pix’s play proves as a writer she is both strong and stands up to the patriarchy with her excellent dialogue.
Centred around the theme of power, Mrs Rich (Sophie Stanton) is a widow and has the ambition to climb the social ladder as a “person of quality” and live the luxurious lifestyle she so desperately dreams of. Stanton is exceptional in the role and really makes it her own. She commands the audience with her stage presence, capturing the balance of the role without taking the comedy too far.
Enhancing the production is Grant Olding’s music that lifts the performance with hilarious musical numbers. Entering the theatre to four women in huge wigs playing a quartet of saxophones, it instantly creates a colourful and vibrant mood. These exquisite musical numbers allow us to see inside Mrs Rich as Stanton captures her emotions of glee, insecurity, anger and delight. The music injects the production with punch and pace.
Colin Richmond’s ravishing design encapsulates the entirety of the production with his grand costumes that are bursting with colour, intricacy and detail. It almost feels as if every time a character steps on stage they are in a completely different costume, and they get even more excellently elaborate as the play progresses. The costumes work superbly alongside the simplicity of the set, that uses spray paint to tell us the different setting the characters are in, such as Mrs Rich’s house or the park.
Alongside Stanton’s tremendous leading role, Daisy Badger offers a humorous depiction of the sophisticated Lady Landsworth. Other stand-out performances include the charismatic Sir John Roverhead played by Tam Williams and Laura Elsworthy as Mrs Rich’s straight-talking maid whose sensibility in contrast to Mrs Rich brings great humour to the production.
It’s not an entirely straightforward plot and could be cut by half an hour or so, but remains a joyous piece of theatre with some high-quality performances.
It is a bright, energetic and entertaining production that celebrates the fantastic follies of life through the lives of a collection of expressive women.
The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich is on at the Swan Theatre at the RSC until the 14th of June and tickets can be found online here.