Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

The Man of Mode

Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

The Man of Mode

Article excerpt

Plus ςa change? George Etherege's The Man of Mode at the National Theatre, London

April 2007

Shrewd, slick, and stylish, Nicholas Hytner's NT production delivers a near pitch-perfect, contemporary twist on Etherege's suave and glittering masterwork. Following his acclaimed modern dress versions of Shakespeare's Henry V, and Jonson's The Alchemist, Hytner's Man of Mode triumphantly confounds the received wisdom that Restoration comedies defy updating.

Moreover, the transposition of Etherege's 1670s scene to that of present-day London picks up deftly on the Restoration's own taste for various forms of literary and cultural adaptation. According to Dryden, Etherege himself was once busily engaged in "translating a Satyre of Boileau's, and changing the French names for English," till word got out to his intended victims and "forc'd him to leave off."

In Hytner's hands, the play sparkles with witty equivalents to its Restoration originals, with minimal disruption to the text. Some striking, non-verbal additions include finely choreographed street scenes that briefly intersperse sections of the action. At the outset also, Sir Car Scroope's lack-lustre prologue is replaced by a sharp, celebrity fashion-shoot, featuring Dorimant (reputedly based on Etherege's fellow-libertine, the Earl of Rochester) posing in Restoration gear, and attended by a clutch of lightly attired models. The play proper opens with Dorimant in his cool, bachelor pad, pausing only perfunctorily at his laptop before zapping off his latest insincere billet-doux to Mrs Loveit.

Other key locations-the houses of Mrs Loveit and Lady Townley-are metamorphosed into "Loveits" and "Townleys," the one, an upmarket lingerie boutique, the other, an exclusive club, second home to an assortment of glitterati and the seriously rich. Smart bars and galleries feature fittingly as equivalents for the Mall and other places of Restoration resort. In addition to some slighter textual changes intrinsic to the updating, Dorimant's snatches of Waller and Suckling-Rochester's supposed trademark-disappear, as do several songs. One show-stopping exception is Sir Fopling Flutter's bravura performance, to his own piano accompaniment, of his newly composed love lyric-a finely-realised delivery that hovers sublimely between Elton John tribute and send-up. …

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