To sum this play up in one word is easy: it was dull. Mind-numbingly so. While the writing in Beau Brummell: An Elegant Madness is both clever and funny, and is a credit to playwright Ron Hutchinson, in his direction Peter Craze fails to make it a play worth watching.
Set in 1819, in a convent (which is unclear until towards the end), the play is based on the life of Beau Brummell, an iconic figure of Regency England, and arbiter of men’s fashion. However, Brummell is living in exile in France, having fallen out of favour with the Prince Regent, and in order to avoid debtor’s prison. A famously flamboyant and eccentric character, to play him requires energy and panache. Sean Brosnan lacks in all these areas. He doesn’t capture Brummell’s extravagance and fails to get across his famed wit. Even in the more serious moments, where Brummell’s growing insanity is confronted, or where he shows anger, frustration, fear and despair, Brosnan gives a mere 50%. There is a halted nature to his performance, which makes it boring to watch. His failure to communicate Brummell’s emotions in a convincing way also makes it difficult to care about what happens to his character in the end – there is no connection with the audience.
Richard Latham, who plays Austin, Brummell’s servant, is equally unsuccessful in making the play interesting. The dynamic between Austin and Brummell has the potential to be gripping; Brummell representing archaic Royalist values, Austin a burgeoning revolutionist. The conversations they have about class and wealth still apply in our current political climate, and therefore, could be a lot more captivating. Yet Latham and Brosnan don’t have chemistry, and thus their onstage interactions are stale. Latham conveys Austin’s desperation to better himself socially in a lukewarm man. For a character who is seemingly filled with class frustrations and the hope of a better future, Latham performs him feebly.
While the set and costumes are good, the music and lighting at times doesn’t fit the performance at all. In the play’s latter half, Austin dresses Brummell for the final time, and evidently it’s meant to be symbolic. To emphasise the symbolism, they choose a clichéd orange light, and opera music which doesn’t at all match the second half’s tone. It also goes on for far too long, adding to the performance’s overall dreariness. The play itself could be at least an hour shorter, perhaps then it would be less exhausting to watch. A diluted performance from both actors, this isn’t a play I would recommend.
Beau Brummell: An Elegant Madness is playing the Jermyn Street Theatre until March 11.