A MAD WORLD MY MASTERS
by Thomas Middleton edited by Sean Foley and Phil Porter.
Tour to 9 May 2015.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 April at Theatre Royal Bath.
Classily acted sometimes cluttered adaptation.
Around the time William Shakespeare was serving-up tragedies – Othello, King Lear, Macbeth – through his adult actors, London’s other best playwright, Thomas Middleton, was tickling the comic fancies of city theatregoers with this piece, enacted by a boys’ company. Though, nowadays, it would doubtless be an arrestible offence to involve children in performing these characters and events.
In this part-recast revival of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production, managed by English Touring Theatre, Sean Foley and Phil Porter update matters to 1950s Soho, finding a more recognisable era with a similar balance between moral pretensions and naked greed, where sex saturates most human action.
It all matches Jacobean London, where theatres stood among brothels and venereal disease ran riot, while growing Puritan manners governed the city. Alice Power’s set has a multifarious sense of the place: cafes, streets ready for nefarious exchanges and rooms where walls have ears if not eyes.
The adaptation catches much of the mood, though the moral elements – Middleton never passes judgment – weigh less than the fun-filled theatricality around devices of decay. Even the distance to Sir Bounteous Peersucker’s home – something more out of The Merry Wives of Windsor than the City – only measures out degrees of gullibility; the party he’s first seen hosting would be page one tabloid stuff today.
Sir Bounteous’s name is one of those changed from Middleton; the original surname was ‘Progress’. Like other changes it sharpens the point, indicating a knight sucking-up to the nobility, and therefore tricked by a fake peer who robs him blind twice-over. Adaptation itself isn’t the problem.
But both adapters, especially director Sean Foley, are people who can’t leave a moment alone. In other productions this has often resulted in witty, speedy comedy. Middleton, though, already provides that, with plenty of opportunity for visual expression. The added details, put together, soon become excessive.
An old butler’s noisy hearing-aid is a nice-enough modern joke, handled with comic variety. But when every moment seems to have its added gag progress becomes less bounteous than clogged. Only at the ingenious denouément is Middleton allowed his own voice entirely.
Master Whopping Prospect: Charlie Archer.
Dick Follywit: Joe Bannister.
Mrs Littledick: Ellie Beaven.
Mrs Kidman: Ishia Bennison.
Constable: Christopher Chilton.
Mr Littledick: Ben Deery.
Penitent Brothel: Dennis Herdman.
Singer: Linda John-Pierre.
Call Girls: Pearl Mackie, Lois Meteri-Jones.
Oboe: Lee Mengo.
Sponger: Michael Moreland.
Master Muchly Minted: Nicholas Prasad.
Sir Bounteous Peersucker: Ian Redford.
Truly Kidman: Sarah Ridgeway.
Spunky/Detective: David Rubin.
Sir Andrew Fondlewife: Bertie Taylor-Smith.
Waitress/Moka Owner: Sarah Quist.
Waiter: Jonny Weldon.
Director: Sean Foley.
Designer: Alice Power.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound/Music: Ben and Max Ringham.
Musical Director: Candida Caldicot.
Choreographer: Polly Bennett.
Fight choreographer: Alison de Burgh.
Associate director: Marieke Audsley.
Assistant lighting: Jenny Roxburgh.
7-11 Apr 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour) Captioned Thu Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroal.org.uk
14-18 Apr Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm; Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm); Captioned Wed Darlington Civic Theatre 01325 486555 www.darlingtoncivic.co.uk
21-25 Apr 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm; Captioned Thu 7.45pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 cambridgeartstheatre.com
29 Apr-9 May Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described 8 May (+ Touch Tour 6.30pm); Captioned 7 May 7.30pm Barbican Theatre London 020 7638 8891 www.barbican.org.uk/theatre