Ostrovsky’s Too Clever by Half at the Royal Exchange

The production of Ostrovsky’s play Too Clever By Half at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre was nearly brilliant. The production contained some extraordinarily funny moments and highly imaginative stagecraft, notably at the end of Act Two when the anti-hero Gloumov attempts to seduce Kleopatra. There were also some remarkable comic portrayals, notably from Hayley Carmichael as the latter and Nick Haverson as Kroutitsky.

The frenetic pace of the stylised action sometimes worked; sometimes it did not. I suspect that stylisation of this kind would have been more successful if the original 19th century setting of the play had been used. Updating it to the 1960s risked too much in terms of credulity. There were, in the last half-hour, some more serious moments, so that the the satirical portrayal of a society too obsessed by money and prestige was not entirely lost. But taken as a whole, the production did not cohere: can it be said that it was “too clever by half”?