Time Out says
The RSC's rock'n'roll take on a 400-year-old comedy is a filthy delight
It may come as a surprise that the sauciest thing on in London right now is a 400-year-old play. Thomas Middleton’s 1605 comedy – here directed by Sean Foley for the RSC and English Touring Theatre – is raucously, hilariously and unashamedly filthy.
Foley and Phil Porter’s edited version sets the play in 1950s Soho. It’s a perfect fit for Middleton’s play, which is full of mischievous drunks, pimps, whores, old men looking for a good time and adulterous husbands and wives – all of whom you’d easily find down Soho’s sordid back alleys in that era. It also allows Foley to infuse the piece with rock ’n’ roll, soul music, jive and lindy hop dance while making sure the original plot and its interlocking stories of high- and low-born characters remains plausible.
In Middleton’s play, young Dick Follywit is pissed off at the rude health of his uncle (who is unwilling to part with Dick’s inheritance) so he decides to disguise himself as a lord and steal all his hedonistic relation’s valuables. Meanwhile, Mrs Littledick is being helped by ‘honest whore’ Truly Kidman to have a lust-filled night away with her lover Penitent Brothel. The names alone – here only slightly changed – are enough to widen eyes.
But the names are just the tip of a Titanic-sinking iceberg. The rest of the piece, from its uncountable double entendres (‘organs’, ‘lutes’ ‘missionary work’) to its almost ‘Carry On’-style sex scene is absolute smut. And Foley’s glorious, neon-tinged production takes full advantage of every possible innuendo. The actors appeal to the audience and play everything for slapstick laughs. At one point Penitent Brothel falls over a bin while trying to be quiet, and just carries on falling over it. It’s that level of humour, but it will make you cry with laughter.
Alice Power’s designs recreate ’50s Soho beautifully and the appearance of many easily slammed doors helps to enhance the vaudeville aspect. The cast often burst into song, while a live band and superb chanteuse overlook the action with a smile and a wink. The entire ensemble cast are a well-oiled comedy machine, with Joe Bannister as trickster Dick Follywit providing excellent laughs with his dressing-up antics – and Dennis Herdman’s tormented Penitent Brothel is a total gem. Stuffy Jacobean fodder this ain’t.