The Marriage of Figaro

Rupert Degas pic

Rupert Degas

“Best known as the inspiration for Mozart’s opera of the same name, The Marriage of Figaro came across in David Timson’s production as a rollicking farce involving a stroppy servant Figaro (Rupert Degas), his fiancee Suzanne (Joannah Tracey), and an aristocrat (Nicholas Rowe) trying every possible means to prevent Figaro and Suzanne’s marriage. The action owed a lot to commedia dell’arte in its use of multiple disguises, contrived situations where the dramatis personae concealed themselves behind any convenient tree, curtain or door, unexpected revelations of identity, and shifting (not to say protean) identities.

Timson is an old hand at adapting, as well as directing radio drama; in this revival he understood the importance of overlapping voices, enabling the action to unfold at breakneck speed. By such means we could enjoy the plot for its own sake without concentrating too much on its implausibilities. Figaro took great pleasure in communicating his thoughts through asides; as a trickster-figure he had licence to establish a close rapport with listeners. Radio is an ideal medium for this kind of device: we feel that the characters are talking only to us, and thereby creating the kind of intimacy that seemed particularly appropriate for this most domestic of farces. This could have been a risky move; if we placed too much reliance on the trickster’s words, we might be duped in much the same fashion as the Count. However our trust in Figaro is increased by a belief in the fundamental rightness of his cause; why should he kow-tow to aristocrats who want to ruin his life, simply because they can no longer exploit him? In Timson’s production this sense of justice increased as the action progressed; we became more and more enamoured of Figaro’s cause. He became a symbol of the underdog striving to free himself from the upper-class yoke.

This is just what Beaumarchais would have wanted; at the height of the French Revolution, he was brought before the revolutionary council, having been a royal servant. His life was spared when he declared in his defence that he was the creator of Figaro. The character epitomizes the underdog striving to escape from exploitation, and was hugely popular with the revolutionaries. Napoleon realized Figaro’s significance when he declared the play to be “the Revolution in action.”