“A Mad World My Masters” RSC production in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Soho, London’s hot spot of entertainment at its saucy time in the 1950s, presented with a generous dose of jazz and swinging petticoats, was selected by director Sean Foley as the background for this rather whacky play penned by Shakespeare’s contemporary Thomas Middleton. The audience’s imagination is permanently tickled by naughty punning, and the selection of language might astonish sensitive minds nowadays quite the same as when the play was first performed in 1605. For the sake of easier understanding, some names were adapted in this production.
Dick Follywit, pennyless grandnephew and impatient future heir of rich Sir Bounteous Peersucker, resorts to various disguises, as a Lord, as a callgirl and as a poor actor, in order to get hold of some advance on his uncle’s wealth.
Meanwhile, Mr Penitent Brothel has problems of a different kind: He is enamoured with Mrs Littledick, the utterly jealous Mr Littledick’s wife, and he makes use of prostitute Truly Kidman’s help for organising a lovers’ tryst.
Dick Follywit (Richard Goulding) manages, with chutzpah,
momentum and wit, to collect some “advance inheritance”; ladies Littledick (Ellie Beaven) and Kidman (Sarah Ridgeway) become allies and create an orgiastic climax. The duped husband (Steffan Rhodri) gains some wisdom, libidinous Penitent Brothel (John Hopkins) finds some other way of comfort, but the last laugh goes to Sir Bounteous Peersucker (Ian Redford), who can’t deny a certain similarity to Falstaff. Apart from these characters, it is in particular Richard Durden as doddery butler to Sir Bounteous, who has the audience in stitches, again and again. The ensemble generates a peppy rhythm, entwining the play’s drive into Ben and Max Ringham’s intoxicating music. Finally: a particular kudos to Linda John-Pierre, whose singing sets several highlights during the show.
A Mad World My Masters will be on stage in Stratford from 6th June to 25th October 2013.
Photos by Manuel Harlan