A New Way to Pay Old Debts



  • A comedy by Philip Massinger, written in 1625 andfirst performed in 1632 in London. The play is still a popular choicefor revival, largely because its larger-than-life villain, the extortionerSir Giles Overreach, offers superb opportunities to actors. EdmundKean was the first to excel in the part, playing the roleso powerfully in his 1816 production at Drury Lane that Lord Byronreportedly went into a convulsion and several ladies in the audiencefainted. When Kean took the play to Birmingham and failed to makea similar impact he went into a rage, replying to another actor'sline about the marriage of a lady:
    Take her, Sir, and the Birmingham audience into the bargain.
    Other actors to make an impression as Overreach include EdwinBooth and Donald Wolfit, who first played the role in a productionat the Richmond Theatre, Surrey in 1950.

    In the play, the grasping Overreach reduces his nephew FrankWellborn to utter poverty and then treats him with contempt. LadyAllworth, a rich widow, helps matters by pretending that she has plansto marry Wellborn, thereby prompting Overreach to suddenly showerkindnesses upon him. Meanwhile Tom Allworth, Lady Allworth's stepson,has fallen in love with Overreach's daughter, Margaret, who returnshis affection. As Overreach wants his daughter to wed Lord Lovelland become 'right honourable', it is an easy matter for Lovell topretend to woo Margaret while in fact advancing Tom's suit. When Overreachrealizes the deception he becomes insane and is committed to Bedlam.