The Libertine

Theatre, West End
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(11user reviews)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Dominic Cooper is great in this oddly dour Restoration romp

Nowt to do with Pete Doherty – though I suppose several scenes would ring a bell for him – ‘The Libertine’ is a revival of Stephen Jeffreys’s 1994 play about the notorious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (famously adapted into a film starring Johnny Depp). A legendary rake, boozer and frenemy of King Charles II, those of you with more ‘progressive’ English teachers may have come across some of Wilmot’s fantastically ribald poetry back in the day.

The play provides a fair vehicle for a lead actor, in this case erstwhile History Boy Dominic Cooper. He’s very good as Wilmot: from his arch opening monologue in which he witheringly orders us not to like him, he portrays Rochester as a brilliant, troubled – I'm not sure think he ever cracks a smile – underachiever, whose wildly provocative behaviour (‘I must always push thing too far’) comes from a mix of frustration at the limits of Restoration society, and a sort of sublimated inferiority complex that stops him writing ‘proper’ works in the vein of his friends John Dryden and George Etherege for fear of ridicule. 

He’s good, but one problem with Jeffreys’s play is that almost nobody around Wilmot has any sort of depth whatsoever: they’re just bewigged caricatures of Restoration fops and tarts (though here Jasper Britton is very good as a deceptively deadly Charles II). The other problem is that it’s tonally inconsistent. Formally it nods to Restoration comedy and both halves start in a shower of delightful naughtiness (the first Wilmot’s brilliant monologue, the second a lengthy song about dildos). But in each half director Terry Johnson runs out of funny material to get his teeth into as Wilmot turns to ponderous naval-gazing and it all bogs down in something verging on moralising.

Worth it for Cooper, then, but the play is no classic.


Users say (11)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

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Dominic Cooper’s performance as the main character, John Wilmot, is rather good; but it’s somewhat wasted in a play that doesn’t really get anywhere. The promising starting monologue, asking the viewer not to like the character, is funny and engaging... But basically it’s downhill from there... The acting is good all around, but the play is lacking in funniness, allure or some real meaning. You can laugh a few times, and it is not boring; but you won’t remember much...

Anything spoken in Old-English, like Shakespeare, doesn’t appeal to me at all but after seeing good reviews for The Libertine I decided to give it a go (the star of the show was also a convincing factor!).

Surprisingly this amusing, engaging play drew me in immediately.

I didn’t know what to expect of this production before attending, but ended up really enjoying it and in particular Dominic Cooper’s central performance. He is mesmerising playing the uninhibited, good-looking and cocky heir, and delivers his lines with real conviction. I’ve never really noticed him much as a film actor but in this play he fully commands the stage with charisma and, in the second half, vulnerability.

The staging is interesting - taking place on raised platforms and balconies and occasionally amongst the audience as well. The language and content can be quite ‘colourful’ so this is probably best for an audience of 16+.

It’s a play quite unlike anything I’ve seen in the West End before - despite the time period in which it’s set it still feels very fresh and contemporary.

This is a cheeky, old fashioned historical romp. It almost felt a bit like Blackadder but without the clever wit. Dominic Cooper is excellent as our leading lothario who implores you in the entertaining opening monologue not to like him. Despite a great cast I found the script unfunny & unoriginal. I must admit I'd just finished a week of night shift so was exhausted. I left at the interval because I wasn't connecting with it & found it hard to stay awake. My friend however reports there was a hilarious song about dildo's in the second half. Bawdy it is, high brow it's not!

A period piece about  the "notorious" libertine the Earl of Rochester (who was around during the reign of  Charles II). It's a sort of rough comedy - full of rather crude and not terribly funny humour.

Dominic Cooper tries hard to make it work, but like Johnny Depp (in the film of some years ago) fails.The problem is it just isn't a good play, & really not one worth reviving. I'm surprised that the Haymarket management thought it worth transferring to the West End. Sorry but I just found it stoggy, tedious & tiresome.

It all starts so promisingly! After weeks of thinking about booking my friend and I went for it - even splashing out on front row stalls seats for the privilege. (I say 'splashing out' but the tickets were heavily discounted from most agencies which should have been a sign...) As Dominic Cooper delivers his opening monologue - ironically informing his audience not to care about him - I couldn't see how anything could go wrong. 

And, for the first act at least, it doesn't. The script it tight and witty. Cooper seems to relish the role and provides a scene-stealing performance. His supporting cast are equally fine and of a high talent. There's some truly laugh out loud moments with a side ordering of pathos and a big portion of debauchery. 

And then the second act opens. It opens with a song about dildos. My prefered type of humour is dark comedy and this is the kind of thing I would normally find amusing - if not out right hilarious - yet it jars. After the intellectual yet filthy humour of act one this sets up the mish-mash tone of act two. Although it is understandable that the 'fall' of our dashing byronic hero will not be nearly as fun as watching him at the top of society it does not justify the result. The second act is slow and boring - unrelentingly so. The energy so carefully constructed and joyfully played with in act one dies completely. 

The show ends on such a lifeless tone which is a shame as the first half showed such potential. Disappointing. 


I booked last minute tickets to see this play, not really knowing what to expect but being a fan of Dominic Cooper. I was pleasantly surprise in the first half, it was humorous and John Wilmot's (Dominic Cooper) character was intriguing. At the interval, the people beside us left. The second half opened with a song about dildos, which while funny, seemed out of place and marked the shows turning point. By the end of the play, it seemed even Dominic Cooper was pleased it was over. He offered an apologetic smile to the audience as he took his applause. Dominic Cooper is a great actor, unfortunately this play lacked any depth to make it compelling.

The star of this production is quite clearly Dominic Cooper and although a little apprehensive about how he would translate to the theatre, I was pleasantly surprised.  He’s extremely engaging and quite a mesmerising performer.  The rest of the cast were strong too, with maybe the exception of the wife who seemed a little wooden (performance on 26/10/16).  For me, the play didn’t quite flow - it was light-hearted and funny in the first act and then got very serious towards the end.  In my opinion, the screenplay was trying to do too much in one show.  Worth going to see Dominic Cooper but don’t expect to leave fulfilled.


Dominic Cooper’s character states at the beginning of the play, that we’re not meant to like him in his West End debut and, sadly I just didn’t like it at all. Although the cast were good, I felt the play didn’t flow well, it just dragged towards the end and the relationship between John Wilmot and Elizabeth Barry just wasn’t convincing enough. The Libertine tells the story of the John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester a well-known poet and playwright of his time detailing his exuberant lifestyle and life of excess, quite literally in some scenes! Expect to witness debauchery, plenty of crude sexual innuendos, lewd jokes and a song about dildos. Dominic Cooper clearly is star of the show here and does play his character of John Wilmot very well but unfortunately apart from this there was nothing too memorable afterwards. Sadly not one for me.

The play follows the story of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, friend and poet of King Charles II. John lives on the edge, caring little for the people around him. He doesn't want people to like him but you are attracted to him throughout the play and strangely feel empathy for him, understanding he does these things because deep down he is unhappy with life. Not the best play I've ever seen but great acting, combined with a semi-interesting storyline and the ever endearing Dominic Cooper made it worthwhile. If you are a fan of Cooper, I wouldn't miss this opportunity to see him in his first West End show otherwise I wouldn't bother.


Dominic Cooper as a raunchy, reckless renegade? Erm, sounds like a dream! However, while this show is lighthearted, frivolous and entertaining, this show lacks a deeper meaning and doesn't quite stand up to its West End competitors.

Based on the rambunctious lifestyle of Earl of Rochester, this play explores his booze fuelled short life, falling in love with an actor before drinking himself to a waste. The story line is not complex, and there is not a huge amount of content, which leaves much to be desired. However, Dominic Cooper as the Earl is brilliant and, particularity in the later, more tragic part of his story, impressively reminds us that his career started on the stage. Another standout performance is Jasper Britton as King Charles, who brings a self-indulgence to the role which is repulsive yet hilarious simultaneously. The chemistry between Cooper and his trio of lovably roguish companions is great to watch, and these are the most entertaining and funny parts of the play. Ophelia Lovibond who plays his love interest Lizzie, is also a delight, and brings a steely determination to her role.

However, their love is not very convincing, and this is not due to the lack of talent of the duo, but more to the content of the play, which does not offer enough scenes for their love to blossom. Furthermore, the lewd, comic elements do tend to bleed into the more tragic parts of the story. At one point in particular, the audience couldn't tell if they were supposed to laugh or cry, in a very uncomfortable

manner, yet maybe this was the vibe director , Terry Johnson, was going for.

The set is slick and very much of the era, and I loved the every-changing huge painting of a backdrop, which reflected the feel of the scene with famous Restoration paintings which I thought was a genius touch. 

Rude, lewd, and debaucherous: The Libertine is an entertaining night at the theatre, but not one that has left me reeling or deep in thought. 

Went on opening night as I was able to get a seat in the middle on the third row simply because I wanted to see Dominic Cooper - who really is the star of the show.  However the story is nothing as saucy as the screen grabs I have seen on Youtube from the movie starring Johnny Depp.  It doesn't even make me want to wiki the Earl of Rochester because ultimately he never reached his potential. What a wasted privileged life!

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