|- by Ron Hutchinson - - directed by Peter Craze -|
|a Dual Theatre Company presentation|
An Elegant Madness, performed by the Dual Theatre Company at Box May 25th and 26th,
relates the downfall of Beau Brummell. It was an evening of contrasts, with Richard Latham
a perfect foil for Seán Brosnan, the raffish manservant baiting the suave aristocrat.
They conveyed the complex relationship of the two characters in a superb outpouring of quick fire repartee,
which kept the audience absorbed in this drama by Ron Hutchinson about the human condition.
Brosnan achieved tragic pathos as he defied his fate, while Latham provided philosophic musings.
There were laughs too, with the audience on the receiving end of a privy bucket.
We are fortunate to have such talent available to us and I recommend local theatre to those feeling
they have to travel to the West End for the best.
In 200 years time, what will we be saying about the Beckhams or Princess Diana? Probably not much.
Nearly two centuries after Beau Brummell became the first modern celebrity – famous chiefly for being famous
– he might be mortified to discover his renown has been reduced to a tenuous link with gentlemen’s tailoring.
His devastating row with the Prince Regent is lost in the annals and the breath-taking fact that he regularly
ordered his manservant to re-tie his stock 23 times only leaves us wondering what on earth a stock is.
We eventually find out through Peter Craze’s measured direction of Ron Hutchinson’s study of what he
considers “one of the most extraordinary of all Englishmen”.
Hutchinson’s text is well written and full of witty aphorisms.
As Beau Brummell, Sean Brosnan is haughty, cool, racked with impotent rage and convincingly mad but
his coarse-grained valet Austin, played by Richard Latham, probably excites more sympathy from a
modern audience in his connection with what is important to ordinary people.
For all Brummell’s self-conscious one-liners, it is Austin who inadvertently delivers the plays sharpest
observation – that when Narcissus fell into his own reflection and drowned, the only person he hurt was
himself. Brummell in turn has the grace to admit he is right.
Celebrated for both his wit and his wardrobe, the dandy Beau Brummell was a legendary perfectionist,
known for retying his cravat 23 times a day. By the period of Ron Hutchinson’s play, however, he was a
penniless old man in stained pyjamas, wasting away in a Calais madhouse. Attended by a resentful valet
named Austin, he compulsively relives his former glories with George IV (the now estranged friend of his youth).
When the King comes to town, Brummell mistakenly prepares for a royal audience, hoping to be restored to
favour at last.
With his affected posture and lofty drawl, Seán Brosnan mesmerises as the Beau, discoursing on dress
(‘One must tame the waistcoat. Down, sir, down!’) or teetering on dementia like a haughty stork.
In the the second act, master and manservant perform a balletic ritual in which Brummell dons his
clothes piece by piece – a spectacle at once ludicrous and touching due to Peter Craze’s adroit direction.
Deploying music, lighting and a bi-level set, Craze locates the pathos behind the clever script.
If ‘to be dressed well is the closest we ever get to the divine’, then Hutchinson’s Brummell is in hell.
Yet despite his squalid surroundings, he manages to achieve a peculiar grandeur, never wavering from
his conviction that style is everything. Neither politics, war nor famine disturb his composure, a philosophy
Austin finds monstrous even as he, like the audience, is seduced by Brummell’s golden tongue.
It’s always the bad guy, after all, who gets the best lines.
Glamour and splendour reduced to ashes in 1819 Paris, with a play of irreconcilable opposites.
Beau Brummell, ancestor of the glitzies who have thrived in the age of glossy magazines and TV, was that
most wretchedly remembered type – the personality, famous for being famous (He’s known because he’s
King of Regency society, he was toppled by its blood-royal, the Prince Regent. Poverty stricken,
Brummell awaits a royal recall as the ex-Regent, now George IV, visits Paris. He is, of course, disappointed.
Hutchinson hardly keeps it a secret that Beau will remain forgotten, though he holds off until the second act
making clear where Brummell and his reluctant servant are actually holing up.
The tiny colourless room with its cheerless fire grate and ex-fashionable clothes wasting on the walls
evokes well the shabbiness of Brummell’s life.
Yet there’s dignity in his straight-backed insistence thon his role in revolutionising English society
– though he echoed no such social revolution as the fashion leaders of 1960s England. Not since
Marat and de Sade duelled it out in a French asylum (there’s some similarity in Hutchinson’s setting)
has there been a stage debate on the nature of revolution between two so incompatible characters.
Though the stage couple they most recall, with Brosnan’s self deluded assurance and Latham’s
scurrying fury, is Beckett’s Hamm and Clove.
And this is Beau’s Endgame: dismissing the servant he can’t pay, receiving imaginary noble visitors with
smiling condescension right to the final fade out. Latham’s narrow eyed, vigilant and aggressive servant
intensifies the class hatred. This is someone whose life – and mind - has no room for any indulgence
of individual quirks.
If, like me your sum total knowledge about Beau Brummell is that he lived a couple of
hundred years ago and was a snappy dresser then go and see this bleakly comic two hander about this
David Beckham of yesteryear.
We join Brummell (played with panache by Seán Brosnan), his glory days as the Prince Regent’s
favourite now over, languishing in a Convent for the mentally challenged in Calais. Life has not been kind
to poor Brummell since he fell out of favour some twenty years ago. Now penniless and of questionable
mental health he whiles away his days in exile with only his rebellious valet, Austin (played by Richard Latham)
But hope springs eternal. Today the Prince (now King) is visiting Calais and Brummell is sure the rift
between them will soon be over and that he will once again be able to return to English society with head
held high and take up his rightful position as vanguard of all things stylish and fashionable in the age of elegance.
The repartee between master and servant is witty and well observed. As well as telling a poignant tale
of individual tragedy Hutchinson (an Emmy winning screenwriter) cleverly juxtapositions Brummell’s nihilistic,
narcissistic approach to life against that of his freethinking valet in order to explore broader philosophical
and political themes.
Inspired direction from Peter Craze ensure that the pace never sags in this WAITING FOR GODOT
for the fashion conscious. The set is well thought out and convincing with mildew speckled clothes
lining the convent room wall, reflecting the fusion of reality and fantasy that is now Brummell’s life.