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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Man of Mode

In love there is no security given for the future.
---- Dorimant
The Man of Mode
Nancy Carroll as Mrs Loveit and Tom Hardy as Dorimant
(Photo: Johan Persson)
Nicholas Hytner brings to the National a bang up to date production of George Etherege's Restoration comedy, The Man of Mode. Tom Hardy, who was so amazing in Rufus Norris' Festen takes the main role of the man who motors through sexual partners like there's no tomorrow. Setting the play in modern dress, in fact the very latest of London fashion, plunges us into the world of celebrity fashion and culture, with characters dressed by the same designers as those that dress celebrities like David Beckham. Hytner punctuates his scenes with a frenetic techno choreography to loud music, conveying the hectic and flamboyant side of city life for these rich young things as they run from party to club to cocktail bars. The daughters of the rich families that Dorimant courts are played by Asian actors. It is from these families that marriage to an heiress may guarantee these indolent young men the means to repair their dwindling fortunes. The rich families do not allow their children to marry for love but arrange their matrimonial affairs, trying to protect them from obvious, dissolute gold diggers.

Like Stephen Jeffries play The Libertine, Etherege's character Dorimant is probably based on the Earl of Rochester, a notorious womaniser who died in 1680 aged 33 of the pox. This is the age of Charles II, the monarch restored in 1666 after the Puritanism of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell and the only time in her history when England has been a republic. The excesses of Charles II and his famous mistresses who included Nell Gwyn make an interesting parallel with today's Royal Family with the Prince of Wales marrying his long term mistress Camilla Parker Bowles and Charles' sons, Princes William and Harry partying at West End clubs.

Dorimant (Tom Hardy) is involved with three women, his current mistress the vivacious but volatile Mrs Loveit (Nancy Carroll), pretty Belinda (Hayley Atwell) who will only go to bed with him if he gives up Mrs Loveit, and the woman he intends to marry for her fortune, Harriet Woodvill (Amber Agar), an heiress from Yorkshire.

Dorimant's best friend and confidant is Medley (Bertie Carvel) an experienced observer of society and gossip. Another friend is Young Bellair (Amit Shah), who is in love with Emelia (Abby Ford), but whose father Old Bellair (Madhav Sharma) wants him to marry Harriet Woodvill. The father is very taken with Emilia and ignorant of his son's affections, wants to make her his mistress. Sir Fopling Flutter (Rory Kinear) is the butt of much of the play's humour. He is The Man of Mode, the ridiculous follower of French fashion who having just returned from Paris with his very silly dance troupe provides the audience with oodles of hilarity. The play itself can be problematic with its ending which is rather unclear but Hytner allows Dorimant to pursue an new woman under the gaze of Harriet. We are left in no doubt as to what kind of marriage she will have if Harriet agrees to marry him.

There has been much effort put into the look of The Man of Mode, from the glamorous photo shoot Dorimant takes part in with girls in sexy Agent Provocateur underwear to the designer lingerie retailer that Mrs Loveit seems to own to the sophisticated cocktail bar with a sculpture of Ganesh, where the Townleys, Bellairs and the Woodvills hang out. The fashions are up to date and make up in contemporaneity what they lack in elegance. Sir Fopling's troupe of male dancers wear those thin nylon black headscarves knotted at the back favoured by streetwise young dudes but curiously couple them with white net bustle supports designed to make skirts protrude at the rear. I liked too the after party dance interval with light rods as the party goers almost fall over in their drunken, drug fuelled dance.

Bertie Carvel hovers admiringly around Dorimant in a splendidly camp performance. Rory Kinnear steals the show with the excesses of Fopling's desire to excel as a tasselled fop, he remarks upon "the high work on his Pointe d'Espagne" - should you wonder, it's lace he's referring to. His athletic bar dancing is show stoppingly mirthful. All four of the other young men simultaneously capture his performance on their mobile phone cameras when he sings his terrible song. Tom Hardy is disappointing as Dorimant, he looks the part but much of his acting is tied to elaborate hand gestures which might be more seventeenth century flourish than modern expression. Nancy Carroll is called upon to explode in a jealous rage her red hair matching her red topped stockings. I liked Amit Shah's rather geeky bespectacled Bellair and Amber Agar's intelligent, witty Harriet who asks Dorimant not to speak his love for her because, "Your tongue is so famed for falsehood." An interestingly experimental and sexy production but the play might have worked better in its own period.

Written by George Etherege
Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Starring: Tom Hardy, Nancy Carroll, Bertie Carvel, Rory Kinnear
With: Thomas Goodridge, Amit Shah, Madhav Sharma, Shelley King, Abby Ford, Hayley atwell, Penny Ryder, Amber Agar, Indira Joshi, Sharon Maharaj, Sarah Annis, Tim Lewis, Lizzie Winkler, Meryl Fernandes, Sheena Irving, Lorraine Stewart, Peter Caulfield, Jamie Bradley, Ralph Birtwell, Mark Tintner, Neil D'Souza
Design: Vivki Mortimer
Choreographer: David Bolger
Lighting: Neil Austin
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Music: Grant Olding
Running time: Two hours fifty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 10 March 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th February 2007 performance at the Olivier Theatre, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
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