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A CurtainUp London Review
A Mad World My Masters
What a strange world Sean Foley has devised with his version of Middleton's 1605 comedic romp, A Mad World My Masters. Bawdy as the original may have been, the 21st century version is as explicit as any sexual comedy I have experienced. So be warned this is not one for the children or maiden aunts or for school parties for fear of safeguarding issues, despite its pedigree from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the English Touring Theatre.
Whilst there is no nudity as such, there is a scene behind a curtain Rocky Horror style where Mrs Littledick (Ellie Beaven) is pleasured in numerous positions by her lover Penitent Brothel (Dennis Herdman).
The play has two main plot lines, Dick Follywit (Joe Bannister) is trying to get his social climbing uncle Sir Bounteous Peersucker (Ian Redford) to part with some of Dick's inheritance early and has plans to rob the man. Follywit disguises himself as a Lord to get into his uncle's house to stay, because he knows his uncle is a social climber. The other theme is the obsessive jealousy of Mr Littledick (Ben Deary) and his employment of a courtesan Truly Kidman (Sarah Ridgeway), disguised as a nun to work with Mrs Littledick on her devotional studies.
Set in the 1950s, Sean Foley and Phil Porter wanted to make the play spontaneous and accessible for today audience without their having recourse to a dictionary to unpick some of the Jacobean language with its innuendo and sexual references. So what is the result? A hectic, fast paced comedy which had some in the audience laughing very loudly at the ribald humour. However, running at almost three hours there is little light and shade in Mr Foley's full on production.
Only in the final act when we are invited to a ball in Jacobean costume do we feel the era of the play. There is 1950s music throughout with a fine singing performance from "red hot Momma" Linda John Pierre in a part called Singer! A live five piece band supports.
The 1950s sets are excellent — the Flamingo night club with neon signs, the Moka Coffee bar, the very many outdoor scenes with street names over the doors and slight set changes. The girls in waisted dresses with stiffened petticoats look great. Some of the men though in blazers and chinos look a bit modern. The Jacobean fabrics and designs are beautiful.
The comedy apart from the sexual, sees a person living in a dustbin with a dustbin lid for a hat with a later scene where the actor tries to escape from the dustbin with some very clever physical antics. Spunky (David Rubin) the decrepit servant staggers on stage, a little like the aged waiter Alfie in One Man, Two Guvnors but he also has a shrill whine when his hearing aid malfunctions.
Has Sean Foley succeeded in updating this Jacobean comedy? Probably, but is it something you want to see? Maybe. You'll know reading this review whether this version of A Mad World My Masters is something, you'll adore but for me it was definitely a case of Marmite!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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