Macbeth – May 2018

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Rufus Norris

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Tuesday 1st May 2018

We had read a few snippets about this production, as well as hearing comments from several friends, so we kept our expectations low when we took our seats for this performance. And as so often happens, that helped us to enjoy the good bits of this performance while not being distracted too much by the rubbish stuff, and when I say ‘rubbish’, you can take that literally. When the National wants to show the excesses of our materialistic, throwaway society, as in the Simon Russell Beale Timon several years ago, they do it in style. Well, there’s a lot of the Olivier stage to fill with something – might as well be bin bags.

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Othello – June 2013

Experience: 10/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Sunday 16th June 2013

This was a fantastic performance. The modern setting enriched the detailed characterisations while the set gave us the necessary locations without being too elaborate. We had one understudy on stage today: Robert Demeger was indisposed so Jonathan Dryden Taylor took his place as the Duke.

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Hamlet – January 2011


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Wednesday 19th January 2011

This has really come on since we saw it last. There are still some weak areas, which is why it only gets seven out of ten, but there are also some gems amongst the performances.

Some of the things I noticed this time will have been in the previous performance as well; I just forgot them when I was doing the notes. For example, Polonius shows Ophelia surveillance photos when he confronts her about her relationship with Hamlet, which adds to the feeling of control. Also, the papers Hamlet and Laertes put in front of Claudius are clearly official – both are carrying their passports as well.

Things that may be new, or we saw from a different angle, include Gertrude giving a little squeal of pleasure when Claudius calls Hamlet his ‘son’, a reference which is picked up again when Hamlet says “I am too much i’ th’ ‘son'”. I don’t remember Laertes’s fellow insurgents being led off at gunpoint by palace security before, but it’s probably the same as I do have a vague memory of Ophelia being similarly dragged off, which we see just afterwards. This set me thinking about Gertrude’s report of her death – was she actually murdered? If so, it could be staged by having Gertrude read a report of the death,,,,,,but that’s another production. The actors were taken off at gunpoint after the play as well.

Laertes spoke his lines much better, but was still a weak link overall. Claudius seemed rather stilted, and his delivery was a bit rushed. We got to see David Calder this time, and he turned in a good performance as Polonius, and an absolute peach as the gravedigger, recognizing Hamlet and mouthing ‘is it him?’ at Horatio. It brought an extra poignancy to Hamlet’s recollections of Yorrick, as the gravedigger could remember the man too.

This production seemed to lose sight of the consequences of some of the staging choices. Despite being ‘realistic’ – modern dress, guns, security staff talking into their cuffs, etc. – there were some strange changes of lighting for no apparent reason (other than the need for darkness to cover the change of scenery?), and a number of line readings and other aspects didn’t fit either. For example, Gertrude has a good pair of lungs on her, so when she calls, loudly, for help, is it likely that such a massive security presence would have missed it? These were all fairly minor niggles, but they were a distraction, and showed that the production wasn’t gripping me in the way the last RSC one did.

One thing we specifically wanted to see again from this new angle was Gertrude’s reactions in the closet scene. These suggested she did see the ghost, but wanted to convince herself she hadn’t. I found Laertes’s reaction to Ophelia’s mad scene unconvincing – why doesn’t he follow her and try to protect her? He didn’t seem that affected by her suffering, mind you, so perhaps that’s why.

I was much more aware this time that the characters don’t know what’s going on, and that they’re making every attempt to sort out the situation to their own satisfaction.

The fight scene was much better, though even to my untrained eye Laertes didn’t look like much of a fencer. Again, Claudius seemed relatively unmoved by Gertrude’s imminent death, and just stood around by the far wall after Hamlet has called for the doors to be locked. Not much of a life, not much of a death.

I noticed during the play scene that Polonius reacted more than Claudius to the poisoning of Gonzago – did he know of the plot that put Claudius on the throne? Was he involved? I think we should be told.

I nodded off during the ghost scene – after Ophelia’s mad scenes, it’s my least favourite of the play, although recent mad scenes have been a lot better (or maybe I’m just able to handle them better), but I don’t think I missed much.

Hamlet’s “speak the speech trippingly…” was set up by a mime showing him rehearsing the player queen – a nice touch. Not just a critic, then, also a nervy author.

For the Fortinbras scene, Hamlet was handcuffed to the ladder far left as before, but this time I didn’t see it being set up, so it just seemed peculiar that he would be handcuffed somewhere and left unprotected like that.

It was interesting to see this again, and although I’m a little disappointed that Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet wasn’t supported by a better production, I enjoyed myself well enough.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Burnt By The Sun – April 2009


By Peter Flannery from the screenplay by Nikita Mikhalkov and Rustam Ibragimbekov

Directed by Howard Davies

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Tuesday 21st April 2009

This was a very interesting play and an excellent production. I’ve seen a number of pieces which comment on Stalin’s impact on the Soviet Union but this play gives a different perspective, bridging the gap between Chekov’s soon-to-be-ousted upper classes and the thuggish period of the mass cleansings and executions.

The set for this play was a beautifully detailed veranda and adjacent rooms in a dacha, with tall tree trunks round the sides and back. The dacha rotates to change the scene, and at one point two sets of wooden railings are brought round to screen the house while the action takes place on the front of the stage. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the costumes, but they all seemed fine to me.

The dacha is occupied (I don’t know if ‘owned’ is the right word for these times) by General Kotov, a hero of the Revolution who has married a member of the old upper classes and chosen to live in her family’s dacha. He’s generous enough to allow the remaining members of her family to stay there too, so we have Maroussia’s mother and grandmother, her uncle and the grandmother’s friend all living there as well as Kotov, his wife Maroussia and their daughter Nadia. The only servant we see is Mokhova, whom the older generation tease mercilessly when they’re not reminiscing about the old days and complaining at what they have to put with now. Mind you, it’s the uncle, Vsevolod, who notices the coming storm when he reads a story in the paper about how “confessions are the source of all justice”. Nobody wants to debate the issue with him and he’s constantly distracted by lecherous thoughts, so if it wasn’t for our knowledge of what’s to come I can see that many people at the time would have accepted such an announcement without comment.

A former friend of the family, Mitia, arrives back after many years away. It’s clear there was a relationship between him and Maroussia and at first I thought he’d come back to get her to run off with him. He’s been spending a lot of time abroad, playing the piano and singing to make ends meet apparently, but now he’s back and he and Kotov are immediately at odds. The battle is quite subtle at first, then escalates through storytelling and Mitia taking Maroussia away for private conversations. Finally it emerges that Mitia is in fact an agent of the NKVD come to arrest Kotov and garner evidence to be used at his trial (though why they need evidence when he’s going to confess….). The rest of the family have gone to the zoo, a promised treat for Nadia, and after roughing Kotov up a bit (he resisted arrest – honestly, he did) and shooting a lorry driver who came along looking for Mokhova, they drag Kotov off leaving Mitia behind on the veranda. He uses Kotov’s own pistol to play a losing game of Russian roulette with himself, with the lights going out as the shot is fired.

It’s a powerful ending and a pretty powerful play. Light at the start, it darkens down through all the revelations until the final act of desperation snuffs it out completely. The characters are well drawn and well acted, and there’s a lot of humour as well as emotion. I so wanted Mokhova to get together with the driver, who came to the house originally for directions as he was lost. They seemed so well suited, but he turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time and death was inevitable. The old biddies with their twittering, grumbling and opera singing were very reminiscent of Chekovian characters. It was surprising to see how well they’d survived the initial stages of the Revolution, but then there would have been lots of them and only so much time in the day for executions.

Mitia is an interesting contrast to the other, raincoat clad NKVD men. He’s bright, articulate and full of stories and song, which gives him excellent camouflage in spying out the Russian exiles who might be a danger to Stalin. He clearly feels the loss of everything he cared about when he first left the area, initially to fight in the Revolution and then sent away to spy by none other than Kotov. It was Mitia’s protest that he had to get back to see Maroussia that led Kotov to investigate this woman, fall in love with and marry her, so Mitia’s grudge is easy to understand. His despair at what he has to do to keep his bosses happy is evident, and his final act completely at one with his personality and situation. Rory Kinnear’s performance was superb in this role, showing off his many talents to perfection.

Holding all of this together is Ciaran Hinds’ Kotov. A man of the people, he’s proud of having achieved so much in his life entirely on merit. He’s hard but not completely ruthless; believing that the victory has been won, he’s inclined to relax and enjoy life a little. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the danger he’s in immediately although he’s certainly suspicious of Mitia’s arrival. But then, he knows the sort of work Mitia’s been doing, so no wonder. He comes across as a loving father and a generally decent man, though prepared to take tough decisions when he has to. It’s sad to see him brought down by Stalin’s paranoia but that’s how it was. Anyone who was popular or successful was a threat and had to go.

There was a fair bit of humour during the play but I’ll just mention two bits here. The first happened in the opening scene when Kotov is roused by neighbours complaining that there are tanks in the fields of wheat. Kotov uses his rank to get them removed and the change in attitude of the two young soldiers is very entertaining. At first they’re throwing their weight around, thinking they’re dealing with peasants (or comrade peasants) but when they realise who they’re talking to, they turn into simpering schoolgirls and are only too happy to put him through to their commander. In relating Kotov’s instructions, one soldier translates “piss off” as “go away”, which also got a good laugh.

The second occasion was the singing near the end when the family is heading off to the zoo. The NKVD men have arrived, and to provide a cover story Mitia introduces them as his colleagues. The family assume that means they’re musicians with the Moscow Philharmonic, and from the expressions on their faces these blokes wouldn’t know one end of a bassoon from another. Still, they end up joining in a chorus or two of Evening Bells, and one chap even sounds quite good. It’s a nice bit of humour before the unpleasant ending.

Although I’ve mentioned a few of the actors by name, all the performances were excellent. I liked the set very much, although the veranda rail was in the way for a lot of the breakfast scene, cutting off the actors’ mouths, which was a bit irritating. It was well worth seeing, and I hope to catch it again sometime.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

The Revenger’s Tragedy – August 2008


By Thomas Middleton, or possibly Anonymous?

Directed by Melly Still

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Wednesday 6th August 2008

This was another production in the style of The Man Of Mode last year, a glorious updating of an old play. There was a great deal to enjoy. The set was in three sections on the revolve, with passageways sandwiched between them. This not only allowed for very quick scene changes, but also gave lots of opportunities for characters to lurk in corners to hear and see what’s going on. One of the three sections showed us the poorly furnished house of Vindice and his family – gaps on the walls showed us where the old masters had hung – while the other two represented rooms in the court, one with red plastic seating and pictures on the walls that left little to the imagination, the other more neutral for an assortment of uses.

The opening scene was a montage of the situation at the start of the play. Vindice sits in his room, raging at fate like a depressed teenager, while all around him the court is partying like mad. The duke and duchess appear to be enjoying themselves, but the duke is soon getting a blow job from one of the athletic dancers (female), while the duchess is trying to seduce a surly young man who turns out to be the duke’s illegitimate son Spurio, and not the only member of the family who merits the title ‘bastard’.

The music is pounding, the stage is spinning, and suddenly we see a woman being set upon by several men. One of them rapes her, his buttocks fully displayed, and when that scene comes round again, the woman has been left to sort herself out, clearly distressed, and trying to cover herself up with the tattered remains of her dress. It’s a disturbing scene, and really lets us know about the depravity and corruption in this court.

Now the party’s almost over, but the duke and the other guests are having a final stroll through the night air, still surrounded by the dancers and other courtiers. The revolve stops, to show us Vindice in his room, with long dank hair, scruffy clothes, and bare feet. As he begins his rant against the “Duke: royal lecher”, the characters are obligingly festooned across the stage in front of us. Well, we need no telling that the duke is lecherous, but it is helpful to have these people introduced to us, and the proximity of their depraved actions and Vindice’s condemnation makes his bitterness readily understood.

Mind you, he’s not bitter about the corruption of the government in general, nor does he know of the rape we’ve just seen being committed. His anger is based on an earlier incident when his fiancée Gloriana was murdered by the duke because she wouldn’t let him get his leg over. Vindice has kept her wedding dress, veil and skull as  mementos, and takes them out while telling us of his pain at losing such a wonderful woman. The skull was a touch macabre, and we have to gloss over questions about time of death, how the flesh was removed, and even how did he get hold of it, because his  brother turns up to offer him a job.

His dream job, in fact. With their father recently dead (Hamlet featured strongly in our list of the plays we were reminded of), the family fell into poverty, so Hippolito, Vindice’s brother, got a job at court and wormed his way into the confidence of the duke’s legitimate, though younger, son and therefore heir (King Lear). This chap, Lussurioso, but I’ll call him Lusty, is a chip off the old block, so naturally he wants a villain to do his dirty work, and he gives Hippolito the task of finding one (Richard III). Of course Hippolito thinks of his brother, and the plot appeals enormously to both of them. It will give Vindice a chance to be at court, in disguise, and find a way to take revenge on the duke.

Meanwhile, the duke’s youngest step-son is being tried for the rape we witnessed earlier. The duke is stern, the wronged noblewoman is present, and her husband speaks eloquently against the criminal. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the judges won’t pronounce the man guilty and sentence him to death. But then the duchess, mother to the rapist, pleads for his life (Titus Andronicus), his brothers ask for mercy on his behalf, and even the duke’s heir asks his father to reconsider. Despite the guilty party being completely unrepentant, the duke decides to wait a bit before allowing the judges to announce the verdict, and it looks like nepotism has triumphed over justice yet again. Admittedly the culprit is sent to prison to await his fate, but that doesn’t seem like serious punishment in these circumstances.

The play really livens up now with Vindice’s first appearance in disguise, as Piato. Rory Kinnear has taken off his wig, and now appears with shaven head and wearing torn jeans and a shiny bomber jacket. He decides to adopt an accent to hide his identity even more, but don’t ask me which one, I’ve no idea. Lusty sends everyone else packing so he can check out the new boy himself. He likes what he sees, and doesn’t even object to being groped by a commoner, so long as the man will get him what he wants. Turns out that what he wants is Vindice and Hippolito’s virgin sister! This shocks Vindice, naturally, but he plays along with Lusty, and decides to use the opportunity to test his sister and mother’s integrity.

When he turns up at the family home, now togged out in decent gear, his sister doesn’t recognize him. So when he offers her the letter from Lusty, she lets fly with a ferocious punch that floors him completely. She then has a good rant (it’s clearly a family trait), and storms off, leaving her brother to pick himself up, in ecstasy at her reaction. She’s still chaste! Then his mother arrives, and, as agreed with Lusty, Vindice turns his persuasive powers on her, only to find that she is eventually lured by the massive amount of money he can offer her. To his great disappointment, she agrees to work on her daughter, and suggests he tell Lusty that he’ll be very welcome to drop in next time he’s in the neighbourhood. Disaster. Vindice succeeded where he hoped to have failed.

Back at the court, his brother informs him of the scandal of the duchess and Spurio, who have been spotted having illicit nooky. With Lusty about to head off to take advantage of Piato’s good work, Vindice tries to distract him by warning him that Spurio has been seen heading into the duchess’s bedchamber, and Lusty, incensed at this treachery (his conscience is so selective), dashes off to avenge this wrong. Unfortunately, it’s his father in bed with the duchess, not his half-brother, and since his actions look like treason, Lusty himself is sent to prison. Several of the lords come to the king and plead for Lusty’s life, and by now the king has cooled down enough to tell them to have his son set free. However, before this, the two remaining half brothers had been trying their version of mind games on the duke. Someone should have explained to them that in order to play mind games, you have to have a mind. While claiming to want mercy for poor Lusty’s life, they try to emphasize the heinous nature of his crime, and work the old boy into such a lather that he’ll have his son executed immediately. But the duke’s too wily for that. He spots their ploy, and tests them out by declaring that they’ve persuaded him to forget and forgive – his son shall go free. They change course faster than a racing catamaran rounding the marker buoy (the Olympics are on), and urge him to take the seriousness of the offence into account. This he does, and declares that his son will die! He gives them a ring to take to the judges to have them deal with it. So I was a bit concerned when the lords then pleaded for Lusty to be released, that it might be a smidgeon too late.

However, the two ‘clever’ sons are busy scheming to get Lusty bumped off, with the younger of the two planning on promoting himself even further once the first heir is out of the way, by getting rid of the second as well (his brother). They’re so busy with this, in fact, that they get to the prison shortly after Lusty’s been released. When they then tell the officers (they decided to bypass the judges, to avoid the risk of any unnecessary reprieves) that the duke has ordered that their brother be executed straightaway, and with tears in their eyes, it’s perhaps understandable that said officers (none the brightest, maybe, but still), should mistakenly assume that they were to execute the rapist brother. And so they do. Oops. But the brothers have already left, secure in their belief that they’re one step closer to the dukedom.

Meanwhile, Vindice, as Piato, has been hired by the duke himself to find a virgin for him to ravish that night. Vindice meets his brother, and explains the whole plan. They’re in a dark lodge apart from the palace, and here Vindice has arranged for the Duke to come and enjoy himself. However, he has set a trap. He’s made up a woman out of Gloriana’s gown, her skull, and a mask, and plans to work her like a giant puppet to get the duke to kiss her lips, which he smears with poison, the same poison that Gloriana herself was killed with. The duke arrives, and without much ado, starts to fondle the supposed virgin, getting slapped at a couple of times for his trouble. But he soon grabs her face and plants a huge smacker on her lips, only to find he’s been tricked.

The lads now reveal themselves, and taunt him as he’s dying, as well as stabbing him several times just in case. Vindice had also found out that the duchess and Spurio had arranged an assignation in the same lodge, so he intends to torment the duke by showing him his wife’s own infidelity with his bastard son, just to make sure the duke dies unhappy. Such is the nature of the duke’s own villainy, this actually seemed quite reasonable at the time, but do remember children, don’t try this at home. The duchess and Spurio turn up on cue, and start enjoying themselves in various positions – I won’t bore you with all the details – while Vindice and Hippolito hide the duke’s body.

The next scene brings us back to the deceased duke’s stepsons, still happy that they’ve got rid of Lusty, but bickering like mad over whose bright idea it all was. One of the officers brings them the bloody head of their victim, in a bag, and the sight of them pretending sorrow while actually being delighted was a lovely moment. It’s short-lived too, as Lusty strolls past on his way to somewhere else, so they get the first inkling that all has not gone to plan. When they discover their brother’s head in the bag, they’re naturally upset, and one of them carries the head off, stroking it tenderly, a worrying sign.

Lusty has reappeared in the red plastic room, the ‘sex suite’, and is pretty angry with Piato for giving him duff information and getting him into trouble. Actually, he takes it out on Hippolito first, as he was the one who brought Piato to Lusty. When Piato does turn up, Lusty chases him away, and then he orders Hippolito to bring his brother, Vindice, to him, as he wants to get Piato killed, and Vindice is a good prospect to do the murder. This is where things get complicated. (Now they get complicated?) How do they bring Vindice to Lusty without him spotting that Vindice and Piato are one and the same? And how to kill Piato without killing Vindice? It’s a puzzle.

Still, Vindice gives it a go. Dressed more like his former self, with long hair, a cap, and smarter but more sombre clothes, he puts in an appearance as himself, and sulks and scowls his way into Lusty’s favour. Tasked with killing his alter-ego, he hits on the plan of substituting the duke’s body for Piato’s (although the duke has been missed, no one’s found the body yet), and dressing the corpse in Piato’s clothes so that people will think Piato killed the duke and swapped clothes with him to make his escape. But before they do this, the brothers head home to see if they can persuade their mother to be virtuous again.

It’s a funny scene at first, as their mother insists she’s done nothing wrong, only to find herself confronted by the very man who persuaded her to turn bawd in the first place – her own son! There’s eventual repentance and redemption (Hamlet again), and all three are reconciled. After the brothers leave, their sister turns up, with bag packed, ready to surrender her virtue to Lusty’s lasciviousness, as her mother asked. Are we too late? Has the damage already been done? Her mother thinks so, and does her best to persuade her daughter to take the virtuous path again. Fortunately, it’s all a test on the daughter’s part, and she’s always been determined to keep herself chaste. Phew, that’s a relief. Hugs all round for this family.

Back at the palace, the lads drape the dead duke tastefully on a chair, and remove themselves to the background. Lusty soon joins them, and then they pretend to discover Piato, drunk and asleep, and stab him to death, only to discover it’s actually the duke. Naturally Lusty’s keen to distance himself from this killing, so he quickly latches onto the idea that Piato did it, and the whole court is presented with this explanation as a fait accompli.

Now that the duke’s death is known, Lusty becomes the next duke, and with several of the court attendants and nobles becoming unhappy with the depravity and corruption of the court, Vindice and Hippolito have a sizeable team to help them with the final phase of their revenge. For the new duke’s revels, there are to be dancers dressed in masks, and these plotters have all the details of the costumes. The stage is set for a bloody ending.

The new duke is crowned, and then the party begins. A group of dancers come on in strange looking outfits, and in the course of the dance, they draw their swords and kill the new duke and the lords who are with him. When the “real” dancers arrive – these are the other nobles, including the step-brothers – they’re accused of having done the killings, and the actual assassins take the opportunity to kill the rest of the evil bunch there and then. It wasn’t as gory as it might have been, but the body count was higher than an episode of Midsomer Murders. The nobleman whose wife had been raped (she subsequently died) is asked to take over as duke, and then Vindice makes the biggest blunder of all time. He confesses, the silly bugger. Well, he obviously thinks it’s alright now, the bad folk have been killed, and only the good folk are left, but he forgot that the new new duke is an upstanding man, who will have to prosecute murderers regardless of the provocation, or the benefit to himself. And so it turns out. Worse still, Vindice has already named his brother as his accomplice, so both of them are for the chop. Vindice sees the justice in all of this, and goes to his death a contented man; understandably, his brother’s not so happy with this result.

As the bodies are carried back onto the revolve to be tidied away, the stage turns again, and we see the new duke telling Vindice’s mother and sister what’s happened. They’re naturally upset. Meanwhile, as the stage still turns, we see the whores being cleared out of the sex suite, and there’s a general sense of order being restored. It was a lovely way to finish, and we gave the cast a good reception, which they thoroughly deserved.

I added Anonymous as a potential author of this piece as the authorship is in some doubt. Middleton is some people’s choice, but there are other opinions, although the National is content to put Middleton’s name on this production. I couldn’t honestly say from hearing the lines whether Middleton is the man as I don’t know his work very well, but it’s easy to see why it was a popular play in Jacobean England. There’s plenty of talk about sex, lots of references to death, and plenty of killings, which is just what the audiences liked at that time, or so we’re told. It’s noticeable that there’s no actual sex on stage as far as the text is concerned – the rampant activity on show in this production is entirely to get the point across to an audience that’s pretty much seen it all before; a bit like an Andrew Davies adaptation, but much darker. It seemed totally valid to me, and the music fitted in perfectly to this style as well. In fact, I really didn’t notice the music much, that’s how good it was. We had one group to our right doing more traditional music, while on our left were two DJs giving us the loud club sound, which was a brilliant way to represent the depravity of the court. I didn’t actually notice any of the characters snorting a line or dropping a tab, but it wouldn’t have been out of place.

The other thing I noticed early on was that I found it harder to understand these lines. I became aware of how much Shakespeare has influenced our use of language, even today. It just seems to be easier to hear his lines. This dialogue was much harder work.

The many connections we noticed with Shakespeare’s plays were confirmed in the program notes, as Middleton (if indeed the author) was effectively Will’s complementary opposite, writing works such as The Ghost Of Lucrece to echo Shakespeare’s earlier The Rape Of Lucrece. Even the excellent scene where Lusty arranges for Vindice to pimp his own sister has a precursor in The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Ford, disguised as Brook, hires Falstaff to do much the same thing with his own wife. Still, it’s a good scene, and perhaps for once Will found himself wishing he’d written that.

To get back to the production itself, the actors were all excellent, although I must mention Rory Kinnear’s performance. It was superb, and given the close ties between this play and Hamlet, I’m looking forward to seeing his take on that role in a couple of years. (Apparently he’s delaying playing the part as there’s such a glut at the moment, a wise choice.) The whole effect was perfect, and I don’t expect to see a better production of this play ever.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

The Man Of Mode – April 2007


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