Friday, 9 May 2014

The Libertine

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
When a troupe of actors wander the stage in civvies and modern-day
attitudes before the lights dim and they switch into character, it's a
commonplace enough theatrical device these days. When the cast of
Stephen Jeffreys' period romp concerning the Second Earl of Rochester's
stubborn flight into self-destruction top and tail Dominic Hill's
production with such an approach, however, it becomes a device that
matters.

Jeffreys' version of Rochester, after all, is a man who courted infamy
like the most indulgent of rock stars, whose entire crash-and-burn
lifestyle was a performance to die for. Unlike the coterie of preening
fops, literary groupies and even Elizabeth Barry, the actress he fell
for, however, he refused to play to type. Rochester's excesses were no
act, but something that fuelled his soul, even as they killed him.

Hill's revival of Jeffreys' twenty year old play casts Martin Hutson as
an initially charming but increasingly crazed Rochester, whose opening
speech to the audience sets a tone that flits between Blackadderish
camp and something darker. When Gillian Saker's Barry first takes the
stage, the ensemble roar their way through the Citz's auditorium. By
the time she's the talk of the town and Rochester is confined to a
wheelchair, their vicious sparring may be in full view, but her
crowd-pleasing antics can only be heard.

This is the only thing hidden in Tom Piper's open-plan design for a
play that has a multitude of contradictions rubbing up against each
other. Life and art, artifice and truth, attention-seeking and
self-loathing and the addictive allure of all of these are at the heart
of a work that gives its subject the immortality he craved at last.

The Herald, May 9th 2014


ends

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