Philip Massinger’s A New Way To Pay Old Debts was first published in 1633 but the themes are as fresh today as they were when ‘yay verily’ was the equivalent of ‘lol’. A classic renaissance combination of comedy and tragedy, this play explores the great human foibles of greed and ambition – with a little bit of rom com thrown in for good measure.
In an age when the acquisition of land and title was the only way to climb the social ladder, the young Frank Wellborn (played in the Arts Theatre’s new production by the energetic Vanja Matula) has been done out of his entitlements after the death of his father. It transpires that the dastardly Sir Giles Overreach was behind the plot to acquire Wellborn’s fortune – leaving Wellborn himself to go off the rails and waste what little he had on debaucherous living and depressing company. When Wellborn discovers the truth about his misfortune, he hatches an imaginative revenge strategy and enlists a troupe of sidekicks to help him with his ruse. Arch villain Giles Overreach is played with relish by Steven Tandy, an accomplished stage actor best known (to me at least) for his turn as Tom on The Sullivans. But Sir Giles is a far stretch from the noble, war-weary Tom! Giles personifies everything that’s bad about capitalism. He’ll stop at nothing in his quest for wealth and status, including handing over his forlorn, God-fearing daughter to a loveless but prosperous marriage. The plot unfurls around the losing and gaining of fortune, with almost every character engaged in some form of double-crossing trickery in the name of love, money or vengeance.
This production makes the most of the charms of the Arts Theatre – a quirky, intimate space that combines its 60s design with a rustic courtyard. The set is creative and effective for a small stage area and the fact that there are really no ‘bad seats’ ensures every punter gets a great view of the action. The language is traditional – so be prepared to bend your mind a little while you sink into the vibe of renaissance English. But somehow, like Shakespearean works and other similar period plays, once you attune yourself to its style, the dialogue is witty, colourful and laugh-out-loud funny in good measure. The drama is perhaps less moving than it might be thanks to the over-the-top nature of some characters, but it’s nonetheless easy to understand what motivates these players to carry out their dark deeds.
I attended on opening night and there were one or two fluffed lines and prop mishaps, but such is the joy of a live theatre experience. How wonderful to watch such a spirited story told without recourse to special effects and sci fi wizardry!
I don’t support local, live theatre nearly as much as I should. If you’re in the same boat, do yourself a favour and give this one a go.
A New Way To Pay Old Debts is playing at the Arts Theatre, Petrie Terrace, Brisbane until 24th August.
I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary ticket to this show, but all opinions are, as always, my own. I did not receive payment for this review.