PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Despite already having had a full run in Bath, this doesn't seem to have invited the newspaper critics in yet.
Rochester, though, sees in them an early attempt at naturalism, and appoints himself
her acting coach, with the ultimate aim of course of making Lizzie his mistress.
He also has a wife he married for her money (getting her attention in the first
place by abducting her) and continues to drink and whore his way around London, but
this isn't particularly unusual behaviour at the time and, despite Rochester
introducing himself in a prologue all about how unlikeable he is, Jeffreys' play has
a different theory about him: That Rochester became notorious not so much because of
his behaviour as for the fact that, alone in a time of excess, he realised the
ridiculousness of the court and its debauched way of life. It's his poems and plays
mocking the king and his mistresses that get him into the most trouble.
Rochester's coterie includes the playwright Etherege himself (Mark Hadfield in a
performance that... well it's Mark Hadfield so you already know what the performance
is like) but despite the attitudes of the men around them, the play itself does well
for its actresses with three memorable female roles - Lovibond has the eye-catching
role as Lizzie, who's unafraid to talk back to the powerful men, but there's also
quietly tragic moments from Alice Bailey Johnson as Rochester's wife Elizabeth,
contrasting with grounded, no-nonsense narration from his favourite prostitute Jane
Cooper himself has a self-confessed typecasting as cads and seems to enjoy playing
this one. The play does have a bit of an identity crisis though: It sort of
follows the style of a Restoration Comedy, with various characters having asides to
the audience and the occasional dip into verse, but doesn't commit to being as silly
as that. In fact Jeffreys has a more tragic tone in mind for the second act, and
neither comedy nor drama feel entirely well-served by the end. It's still a cut
above the TRH's usual (low, low) standards though, a good-looking (designs by Tim
Shortall) production with a quality cast, but never remotely as scandalous as its antihero - despite a song about dildos - and never quite finding the spark that Billy
(Will Merrick) is searching for at the end.
The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys is booking until the 3rd of December at the
Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Alastair Muir.
*apparently The Libertine's premiere production played in rep with The Man
of Mode, so it was presumably created as part of the same scheme as Our
Country's Good, which features The Recruiting Officer and also originally
played alongside it at the Royal Court.