Beau Brummell: An Elegant Madness

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Fun comedy about the original Regency dandy

If you thought being famous for being famous only really took off with the Kardashians and the Instagram filter, try the early nineteenth-century instead. Beau Brummell was the iconic dandy of Regency England – a man, it was rumoured, who would get his long-suffering servants to do his necktie hundreds of times to get it right. Brummell basically made his appearance his brand.

For playwright Ron Hutchinson’s Brummell, the tragedy is that the sartorial innovator believed he was leading a social revolution, at a time of genuine revolt. This production opens in Calais, post-Battle of Waterloo, where Brummell had fled from gambling debts in London and after being a bit *too* funny about his erstwhile patron, the Prince of Wales. His valet, Austin, a staunch Jacobin, is awaiting his chance to kill the prince.

Hutchinson’s script allows Brummell to fire off sharply funny zingers like an embryonic Wilde. As the fallen man of London society, Sean Brosnan is a plaintive mix of superciliousness and befuddlement, as the syphilis that would eventually kill Brummell has him hallucinating visits to his shabby lodgings from the British aristocracy. There’s a strong vein of pathos to his deluded decline, nicely undercut by Richard Latham’s exasperated Austin.

But director Peter Craze’s production is generally too underpowered to push the play – which is a fairly stagey two-hander – into the kind of emotionally extravagant territory suited to the larger-than-life Brummell. There are some nice bits of heightened reality, like the spot-lit lighting and choral music that turns Austin dressing a momentarily serene Brummell into something quasi-religious and ceremonial. But the show fudges its dramatic moments. The man who always knew how to make an exit would never have approved.

By: Tom Wicker

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