The last and greatest of the Restoration comedies

Haydn Gwynne in The Way of the World (Johan Persson)

William Congreve’s The Way of the World, which premiered in 1700, is the last and generally considered the greatest of the Restoration comedies. The callous and cynical plot is so complicated that few have been able to follow it. James Macdonald’s elegant production at Donmar Warehouse is notable for its diction and treating Congreve’s incomparable prose with the utmost respect. The witty lovers laying down their conditions for marriage is the high-water mark:  Let us be very strange and well bred. Let us be as strange as if we had been marry’d a great while; and as well bred as if we were not marry’d at all.

Haydn Gwynne, playing the great comic role of Lady Wishfort, a crumbling superannuated widow, gets lots of laughs, especially when she is practising rising from a chaise longue.

American playwright Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance at National Theatre is about gay men living in New York today and their inheritance is AIDS. The two-part epic, unnecessarily long, was inspired, not as you might expect by Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, but by E M Forster’s novel, Howards End. Witty and poignant, it is brilliantly directed by Stephen Daldry and excellently acted by a fine cast of English and American actors

David Haigh’s Pressure at Park Theatre tells a little known World War 2 story. The scheduled date for the Allied D Day landing was Monday June 5, 1944. But there was one major problem: the uncertainty of the British weather. General Eisenhower turned to two Allied meteorologists for reassurance. 350,000 lives were at stake and the meteorologists couldn’t agree. The pressure was enormous.

James Graham in Quiz at Noel Coward Theatre mixes fact and fictional imagination to retell the story of the coughing major millionaire scandal, which caught the public imagination in a big way in 2003. Major Ingram was accused of cheating on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? quiz programme. Graham is not primarily interested in whether Ingram was guilty or innocent. What actually motivated him to write the play was that he wanted to explore “the curious overlapping of light entertainment and criminal justice” and the dangers that it brings.

William Wycherley’s The Country Wife, which premiered in 1675, is one of the funniest comedies of the Restoration era. It is also one of the filthiest and its sexual explicitness kept it off the stage for nearly 200 years. The revival at Southwark Playhouse is so well directed by Luke Fredericks, so well acted and so well designed by Stewart Charlesworth that I quickly got over my initial disappointment that the play was being set in the 1920s rather than the 1670s. The characters’ asides to the audience, excellently timed, are particularly effective.

Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, co-artistic directors of Cheek by Jowl, normally work in Russian and English. Their touring production of Pericles is the first time they have produced Shakespeare in the French language. Pericles is in hospital and in a coma. The action remains in the ward and in his dreams throughout. The big disappointment is that it is very difficult to know what is going. Some day somebody will turn the play into a spectacular Broadway musical. There’s plenty of opportunity for music, singing, choreography, lavish scenery and costumes and spectacular effects.