Review: For Love or Money at Liverpool Playhouse

Barrie Rutter as Fuller in For Love or Money

By Nigel Smith

AT the close of the current season, legendary actor-manager Barrie Rutter is standing down from his position as artistic director of Northern Broadsides, the company he founded 25 years ago, making this the final time that Liverpool audiences will see him perform with them.

We’ve seen Rutter play a huge range of roles with Broadsides over the years, from comedy classics to Shakespeare greats. His King Lear in 2015 was a revelation, but he will probably be remembered by most for the blustering patriarchal roles created for him in the company’s uniquely northern comedies.

This adaptation of Lesage’s Turcaret, an 18th century French comedy, seems an ideal vehicle for his final outing, but somehow it brings his tenure to an end with more of a whimper than a bang.

Sarah Jane Potts has wonderfully coquettish elegance in her reading of Rose, a widow who, having spent all her late husband’s money, is looking for a new suitor. But will she aim to find a match for love or for money?

This being a comedy of manners (or lack thereof) translated into 1920s Yorkshire, the answer, naturally, is both. On the one hand she strings along a wealthy, pompous, ageing banker Algy Fuller (Rutter), bleeding him for every penny she can extract. On the other, she plays fast and loose with the freeloading dandy Arthur, played with exuberant vivacity by Jos Vantyler. It’s all going to end in tears…

Arthur has an ally in the cheerful Jack (Jordan Metcalf), and the two bounce off one another splendidly in some really well choreographed conspiratorial scenes. There’s something about Vantyler and Metcalf, especially in these costumes, that puts me in mind of Cornelius Hackle and Barnaby Tucker, and I could easily see them heading off to New York in search of a more colourful life – but that would be another show entirely – I digress…

When a disenchanted housekeeper, solidly characterised by Jacqueline Naylor, decides to throw a spanner in the works, the various lovers’ schemes begin to unravel.

There is a lot going for this show, but somehow it never quite feels as though it stops idling and revs its engine. Whilst there is a clear narrative, the series of vignettes that make it up feel rather limply stitched together.

You really want to care about the characters, however everything is stylised in such a mannered and episodic fashion that you keep wanting to tell them to get on with it. Jessica Worrall’s four-square, beautifully distressed set and delightful period costumes are well lit by Tim Skelly and the movement on the stage is as elegant as anything, but there’s something missing to set the show alight. Maybe it’s the rumbustious music that we’d normally expect to appear in a Broadsides comedy, but there’s no context for any of that.

For Love or Money is exactly the sort of story that Northern Broadsides do well, but there’s a feeling that this adaptation has been hurriedly put together, leaving it lacking the vital spark that makes audiences love their productions so much.

All this said, the commitment of the performers to their characters, all of whom deliberately ignore the fourth wall and conspire with the audience out front, makes for a curiously low key but warmly presented piece of near-farce, and it certainly has plenty of laughs.

For Love or Money is at the Playhouse until Saturday 25th November and ends its 9 venue tour the following week at York’s Theatre Royal.