Letting laughter out of the bottle

mad world jazz club

A Mad World My Masters

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

THERE are those that believe that the great works should not be tampered with and that after centuries of intellectual analysis, diluting every word of text into a question for a sixth form examination paper, they would prefer to keep it all in a bottle of brine to be politely applauded from a distance.

Thankfully there are others like Sean Foley and Phil Porter who understand that theatre is for the stage and not the museum and whilst there should be respect for the original they are making entertainment.

Such is the case with the RSC and ETT who have skilfully plundered the core of Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean romp, A Mad World My Masters, and have made what Middleton would have done himself, a comedy for the audience of his day.

Foley’s directing takes this story of infidelity, sex and greed in London of 1605 and by placing it into a modernist 1950s era accesses a whole range of comedic possibilities that Middleton I feel sure would have revelled in and approved of.

It all starts in a sleazy smokey jazz club back in the 1950s. There’s a live band fronted by the brilliant soul vocals of Linda John-Pierre who collectively punctuate the entire play. John-Pierre adds a rich depth to the otherwise pleasant solo vocals of the other cast member during songs that are featured at timely points through the production.

After a fight closes the club one night, Dick Follywit hatches a plan with his two companions Oboe and Sponger, to rob his rich uncle Sir Bounteous Peersucker using a variety of disguises. Peersucker keeps a mistress Truly Kidman who is also the coach and enabler of the wife of a one Mr Littledick aiding her to engage in her sexual affair with a man called Penitent Brothel.

Joe bannister as Dick Follywit excels in his mrs Littledickrole, reminding me of a young Peter 0‘Toole elegantly extracting every inch of comedy from his lines even when transformed via drag into a woman. The latter drew a few comments about his stocking legs from the audience, which he interacted with gaining a few more laughs.

Dennis Herman as Penitent Brothel was equally entertaining as a man of the cloth drawn into sexual deviance. He finds his salvation only when the spirit of his lover Mrs Littledick appears to him in black lingerie a scene that was both very funny and sexy at the same time.

Ellie Beaven as Mrs Littledick, a role she played in the original RSC production

Ellie Beaven is Mrs Littledick and her transformation from 50’s housewife into vamp is glorious, creating one of the funniest moments of the play with her Shadow sex with Penitent Brothel.

Sarah Ridgeway played Truly Kidman and although diminutive in size commanded every aspect of the scheming prostitute intent on fleecing men on their cash.

Adding a mature RSC tone to the frivolity was Ian Redford as Sir Bounteous Peersucker with excellent performances too from Ben Deery as Mr Littledick and Lee Mengo and Michael Moreland as the hapless Oboe and Sponger.

With its clever staging, live music and quality of acting the production fuses  so many of our popular and much loved comedy favourites  so brilliantly, that even the stiffest scholarly upper lip, tutting over  the edited text, cannot fail to laugh out loud.

Its Pythonesque, The Two Ronnie’s, Morecambe and Wise and ‘Allo ‘Allo with more than touch of St Trinians and the Carry Ons, and with Middleton’s biting sarcasm throughout the result is some of the most entertaining, well-crafted pieces of theatre that you will seeTo 28-02-15

Jeff Grant

26-02-15

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