By: George Etherege
Directed by: Nicholas Hytner
Venue: Olivier Theatre
Date: Thursday 19th April 2007
I almost didn’t go to this performance today, as I wasn’t feeling so good when I got up. But a spot of breakfast got my system going, and I realised I wanted to see this production, so off we went. It was a good choice: this is one of the best productions of a Restoration piece that I’ve seen.
The style was totally up-to-date, high-tech, and very flashy. Messages were sent via text and email, and instead of the Mall or the park, we see the characters promenading in a modern art gallery. Between scenes, to cover the set changes, there were extra cast members, often dancers, entertaining us with some sort of mime activity – people meeting in the street, posing for photographers, and when it came to the art gallery, dancing like a piece of performance art sculpture – very funny. We both thought this sort of thing might become tedious, but they fitted it to the action of the play, and varied it so well that it worked brilliantly, and added to our enjoyment.
The opening scene had a short prologue added, whereby Dorimant, freshly risen, is waited on by a couple of glamour models and a photographer with his crew. He’s wearing a long periwig, a mask, and leather trousers, and poses with the models as for a celebrity photo shoot, stripping off as he goes. Nice body – shame about the tattoos. It’s only at the end of this photo shoot, as he’s giving one of the models his number, that the play proper gets going. His servant informs him that the flower-seller has arrived (changed from orange-seller in the play). She’s brought him a fresh display for his flat – red tulips to replace the roses (from yesterday, presumably) – and offers him information about a young heiress who’s come to town with her mother, and who was seen eyeing him up the previous day. We then get more information from Medley, his friend, and the many strands of the piece start to unfold (or should that be unweave?). Dorimant is tired of Loveit (he sends her a billet doux from his laptop), is in love with Bellinda and plans to bed her that night, having first sent her off to Loveit to fuel her jealousy, as he’s fond of creating a row to enable him to flounce out as if the other was in the wrong. He also plans to meet this new heiress, and see if he fancies her. Meanwhile, he’s been helping a young man, Bellair, who’s in love with Emilia but is worried his father won’t allow them to marry. They arrange to meet at Mrs Townley’s, here converted to a fashionable club, where a lot of the action takes place. Complicated, isn’t it?
There’s an extra complication in that Bellair’s father, Old Bellair, has taken to Emilia himself. Although he criticises her in public, he flirts dreadfully with her in private, lecherous old bugger. Once all these strands are introduced, we can relax and get on with the fun of seeing the plots develop. Needless to say, it all ends happily, for the most part.
Loveit’s place is a fashionable underwear boutique (if they’re still called that), where her assistant gets some of the best business and lines. Bellinda’s arrival goads Loveit into reaching below the counter for a ready supply of white wine, which leads her assistant to tap her watch, pointing out how early it is. Loveit goes for the wine on at least one other occasion, notably to give her time to replace her stocking after Dorimant’s interrupted attempt to give her a good tongue-lashing (of the sexual variety). As I recall, it was during this re-seduction of Loveit that Dorimant turned to the audience (the side we were on), and, acknowledging our reaction to his breathtaking cheek, he finally mouthed “shut up” at us, so he could carry on undisturbed. Of course, we laughed even more, but nothing much could throw that rake off his stride.
There’s a wonderful scene where Sir Fopling Flutter (the play’s fop, in case you hadn’t guessed) gives an excruciatingly embarrassing performance on the piano of a love song that he’s written. This is in Dorimant’s flat, and the others present (Dorimant, Medley, and the servant) are all busy filming it on their mobiles, to send on to their friends. Sir Fopling is played by Rory Kinnear, who’s very convincing as a young man desperate to become one of the “men about town”. His costumes were suitably outrageous, but still worked in the modern context. [Winner of an Olivier Award in 2008 for this performance]
The only other point to mention is that the casting makes the Bellair/Emilia families Asian, thereby making plausible the idea of arranged marriages, which would otherwise be difficult to portray sensibly in a modern context.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me