Review: The Man of Mode, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Until the 18th of March, Upstairs At the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate becomes home to George Etherege’s complex 17th century play, The Man of Mode. Directed by Alexandria Anfield, and presented by Original Impact Theatre, the two and a half hour play, despite having some enjoyable moments, fails to shine.

The Restoration comedy, written in 1676, follows the heart-breaking libertine Dorimant (Will James) and his two side-kicks, Medley (Joshua Jewkes) and Young Belair (Callum Tempest), whose romantic endeavors cause all manner of chaos. Dorimant, in order to win over his new conquest Harriet (Candice Price), has to disentangle himself from his two lovers: the revengeful Mrs Loveit (Elizabeth Bryant), and the fawning Belinda (Elicia Moon Murphy). Similarly the young Belair must conceal his love for Emilia (the unfortunate victim of his father’s affections) and pretend to be in love with Harriet. To add to the confusion, Mrs Loveit pretends to harbour feelings for the ridiculous, purple suit-wearing Sir Fopling Flutter, in order to enrage the immoral Dorimant.

The stage is surprisingly large, and the setting sparse – a single chair and tea set. Throughout the play, the twelve characters utilize the breadth of the auditorium, largely relying on the lighting in order to draw distinctions between the contained groups who inhabit the space at any one time. Indeed the stage directing is smooth and the play rhythmic – a notable achievement considering the size of the cast, and the constant setting changes.

However, the cast are undoubtedly a mixed bag. Whilst the female characters were – on the whole – quite good, the male characters heavily let down the production.

Bryant shines as the jealous, seething Mrs Loveit. Her wide-eyed, witch-like expressions of pure fury are absolutely brilliant, and she holds a presence, with a true sense of comic power, which greatly out-does the rest of the cast. Price is good in her portrayal of the unconventional beauty, Harriet, who despite her blooming love for Dorimant, refuses to let him see it. Price injects the character with a weight, and an integrity, which helps to ground the play, and gives it some sense of depth. Murphy is similarly successful and humorous as the sweet but conniving secret lover of Dorimant.

Unfortunately, the male characters are not so commendable. James as the main character gives a wet and indistinctive performance. Considering the entire narrative pivots on the chaos brought about by Dorimant’s irresistibility among women, it is a real shame that James seems incapable of raising the necessary charisma or charm to make such a response plausible. What’s more, the male characters tend to blend into one another and it feels that these characters have not been properly considered.

Comic timing and a necessary brio when it comes to scene transition gives the work sharpness and pace. Despite this, the lack of substance in the male characters makes the whole narrative seem silly and incapable of accounting for itself. It also means many of the jokes and Etherege’s more subtle social commentary gets largely lost.

The Man Of Mode is playing Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 18th of March.

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