Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Man of Mode

8th February 2007

This modern dress version of Etheridge’s 1676 Restoration satire is hugely enjoyable and provides a telling critique of early 21st century society. George Etheridge was part of a social elite that was devoted to physical pleasure and personal gain. His play mocks this superficiality and the exploitative natures of those involved.

In this updated production, directed by Nicholas Hytner, the social critique remains strong. The parallels between the early 21st century and Restoration England are clear. Wealth, celebrity and shallowness are celebrated in both cultures. The only relationships humans can have with each other are sexual or financial. Posing is more important that substance.

Dorimant, the central character, and said to be based on the Earl of Rochester, is a sexual predator, in need of financial security. He has a mistress (Mrs Loveit), yet pursues another woman (Belinda) and also the wealthy Harriet who could save him financially. Many other characters also embody the complex culture of marriage as the transfer and safeguarding of wealth among a small elite. They too show that they can be as predatory as Dorimant.

Performances are universally good. Tom Hardy – as the buff Dorimant – is both charming yet odious. Rory Kinnear as Sir Fopling Flutter gives a show-stealing performance as a vain and shallow fashion obsessed fool, trailing his entourage of French dancers around the salons of London. Amit Shah as Young Bellair – an almost moral character – is a performer who is on the cusp of stardom. Indeed, by making the Bellair family Asian Hytner helps update the play and give it added resonance.

The staging and set design is impressive. Their evocation of modern life and exclusive clubs is convincing – and the music and movement covering scene changes advances the narrative and is enjoyable in its own right.

The rest of the cast is versatile, giving believable portrayals of a shallow and self-regarding society. The production manages to both entertain and hold up a mirror to our own world. The ending, with Dorimant having just contracted to marry Harriet, yet already in pursuit of a fresh mistress, shows there is no cosy redemption for these predatory members of the social and financial elite.

Olivier Theatre

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