Now fallen into general obscurity, Thomas Holcroft's eighteenth century romp was once highly popular, acclaimed by none other than William Hazlitt as "a universal favourite". among theatres of the day. Happily rediscovered by the Orange Tree's artistic director Sam Walters, one cannot today make any great claims for innate brilliance, but it's enjoyable fare, here beautifully executed by a strong ensemble where the sum truly does seem greater than any individual parts.
Reflecting Holcroft's fraught (and ultimately tragic ) relationship with his own son, The Road To Ruin opens with the familiar sight of a prodigal son bringing disgrace on his upstanding father through profligacy run rampant. The forerunner of today's plastic society that implicitly encourages endless borrowing on credit, the world here depicted is similarly besieged by temptation with endless possibilities for speculation and gambling on everything from bear-baiting, to horseracing. Possessing a good heart if a weak judgement, young Harry Dornton resolves to rescue his father's reputation through drastic means- by marrying a frivolous, unscrupulous widow and thereby sacrificing his love for the widow's virtuous daughter.
Employing many of the conventional touches of the genre like the ludicrous posturings of the elderly widow, the angelic young girl, wily miser and the ubiquitous sight of enthusiastic youth pitted against cunning age, the reason this production succeeds so admirably is because the cast approach their material with real verve, commitment and a precise comic timing that extracts maximum value from every scene. A new season at this intimate theatre kicks off in stylish fashion.