The Town-Shifts, or The Suburb Justice (staging)

By Edward Revet (March 1671; pub. 1671)

Genest’s evaluation of Revet’s nostalgic (or simply old-fashioned) comedy is about right: “it has no particular fault, but the plot is slight, and the dialogue insipid”.[1] Summers calls it an Elizabethan “throw-back”, but notes its “realistic scenes of middle-class life and manners”.[2] In terms of staging, the play is uncomplicated apart from some scenic confusion in Act 5. Indeed, in terms of the LIF model, ‘regular’ would be an apt description with no prior act implying more than three shutter settings and one relieve.

The difficulty in Act 5 is in aligning implicit fictional locations with the dialogue. Five different settings appear to be indicated in this act, four of them not seen before, which seems excessive. An additional problem is that Revet’s indications of place are ambiguous. A prime example of this occurs in 5.2. The scene begins with the direction, “Enter Gammer Fells, Clowt, and Mold the Sexton”. We know that Fells and Clowt have journeyed specifically to interrogate Mold. Given this and the fact that the time has been stated to be around five o’clock in the morning,[3] Mold’s house would seem to be the fictional location, with an interior representing a room in the house the theatrical solution. However, mid-way in the scene arrive the eloping quartet of Lovewell and Leticia, and Friendly and Fickle:

Love[well].

Now, my dear Mistress, we are safe from all our fears;

this is the Sexton’s House, there wee’le repose a little, then to

Church.

Fells.

Are you come, i’faith, Sir; Seize on him, Mr. Constable…[4]

Lovewell’s gestic “there” seems to preclude the interior setting suggested above; indeed, as it stands, the speech only makes sense if Lovewell’s party are outside Mold’s house. Now there is nothing in the preceding dialogue of 5.2 that demands an interior setting, in which case the setting might well be an exterior. This solution satisfies the dialogue, but it requires a certain interpretation of fictional events. We know the early hour and we also know that Mold had been up drinking the previous night. If this is an exterior setting – presumably a graveyard – we must, therefore, accept that Mold is up and about his work and has been intercepted at this early hour by Fells and Clowt as the scene starts. This interpretation of the fictional action does not necessarily present any difficulties, especially for a period audience used to early rising, but it is not exactly fluent theatrically.

The comedy in this scene is partly visual. Mold is a put-upon character who is never allowed to have his say. He is silent during the whole scene, yet he is repeatedly asked direct questions. One imagines the fun of the scene might arise from seeing poor old Mold repeatedly cut off by the two chatterboxes, Fells and Clowt, just as he is about to speak. This gag would be underlined if Mold was a pathetic figure hovering around in his nightshirt. This may seem a highly subjective interpretation, but were it not for Lovewell’s “there” it would be an obvious theatrical solution. Indeed the reader, lacking visual clues, will assume that the scene is set in Mold’s house until the point at which Lovewell enters. If then we omitted one letter and amended Lovewell’s ‘there’ to ‘here’, the scene would play perfectly well as set in Mold’s house. For the scene plot, however, I have decided on the line of least intervention and have allocated an exterior setting.

Whatever we decide, we can be in no doubt that Revet fully intended the use of scene changes in this act. Any appeal to Visser’s model of an unchanging setting with interior scenes being played against an exterior backing is immediately quashed when at the end of this scene we read, “Exeunt, The Scene alters./ Enter again, at Frump’s House”.[5] Here as with other LIF plays there can be no doubt that this play was written with the variety of scene changes in mind. I greatly suspect that the implied scenic demands in Act 5 of this minor play would have been simplified in production. As it stands, the scenery indicated in the plot would demand two mid-act replacements of shutter settings not otherwise seen in the play, even allowing for one relieve setting (in this case the field). I suspect that the LIF scene keeper would not have differentiated between the setting for Pett’s Hackney house seen elsewhere in the play and his London house fictionally demanded here.

[1] Op cit p.120.

[2] Playhouse Of Pepys, op cit pp.387-8.

[3] “we shall be there [Mold’s house] by five a Clock” (The Town-Shifts, op cit p.50).

[4] Ibid. p.51.

[5] Ibid. p.53.

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One thought on “The Town-Shifts, or The Suburb Justice (staging)

  1. Pingback: The Town-Shifts; or, The Suburb Justice (scenery) | Restoration Theatre

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