BEAU BRUMMELL – AN ELEGANT MADNESS
This production, tweaked a bit from Ron Hutchinson’s 2001 play about the man, concerns the great dandy after his fall from grace, immured in Calais with his valet in exile and in penury; pining for his great days as a fashion icon and friend of the Prince Regent. Let’s get a quibble out of the way: Brummell was 41 in 1819 when the play is set; Sean Brosnan who plays him here clearly has not seen 40 for some decades, and Richard Latham, the valet, is no spring chicken either. Turns out they are reprising their roles in the earlier version. That said, there’s no lack of vitality or skill in the performances. This is a difficult play to pull off: it skips around in time, without notice, conflating this period in Calais with his final days in an asylum twenty years later; there are scarcely believable threats of suicide; the impish valet has endless ‘apprentice’ style schemes to make money, which combine with his fierce republicanism; and an unlikely assassination plot which evaporates as soon as actual royalty seems likely to appear. The Beau himself is magnificently haughty in his condemnations of, basically, everyone who isn’t him – but with a Wildean wit which pre-dates Oscar by half a century. Once you settle in to the anomalies of the piece, and let the relationship of these improbable characters wash over you, it is intensely enjoyable. The rapport between the actors makes the whole thing work, and its sly comments about the nature of celebrity still have relevance to our own day.
John Christopher Wood