by David Hirson.
Comedy Theatre Panton Street SW1Y 4DN To 4 September 2010.
Mon-Sat7.30 Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 1hr 45 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 2118.
Review: Carole Woddis 7 July.
Overwhelming is a two-edged sword. . .
What do you do if you just know something has stonking great `hit’ written all over it but actually you can’t get excited?
Mark Rylance has become a phenomenon. For an actor whose own raison d’etre at one time was to épater les bourgeoisie and whose time at the Globe was distinguished by its iconoclasm, he’s become a populist darling of the crowd.
Ironic really, because with him at the helm in this Sonia Friedman British-American produced and acted study of diabolical manners, art and ego, where intellectual rigour loses out to nonsense, David Hirson’s ersatz Molière comedy, written in rhyming couplets and set in 17th century France, looks as if it will sweep London before conquering Broadway – where it heads when it finishes here.
Better luck second time around, because on its 1991 Broadway début it ran only 25 performances. Transferring to London in 1992, it proceeded to pick up an Olivier for Best Comedy. Alan Cumming was then in the Rylance role of Valere, the street clown whose silly, unstoppable diatribes and impermeable self-regard bring him into direct conflict with Elomire, the stuffy, if high minded court dramatist.
The battle of wits that ensues is engineered by Elomire’s `patron’, the Princess who sees a marriage made in heaven bringing the two together. Think Russell Brand meets Howard Barker – blabbermouth versus principle.
Rylance, boasting a Ken Dodd pair of molars, delivers a scatological tour de force, farting and spitting and carrying all before him. It’s a performance of high octane energy, Ubu-like in its ferocity and verbiage, brilliantly written in parts by Hirson who seems intent on demolishing shibboleths of theatre, taste, decorum and even logic.
The degree to which you appreciate Hirson’s shrieking, over-written mischief is in direct proportion to how much you enjoy Rylance in full grotesque domination, whilst American actors Stephen Ouimette and a long suffering David Hyde Pierce (of TV sitcom Frasier fame) are forced to wear silent, pained expressions longer than any actors should.
Matthew Warchus drives it all at breakneck speed but in the end its own demonic exhibitionism overwhelmed this spectator.
Dorine: Greta Lee.
Elomire: David Hyde Pierce.
Bejart: Stephen Ouimette.
Valere: Mark Rylance.
The Princess: Joanna Lumley.
Madeleine Bejart: Sally Wingert.
Rene du Parc: Robert Lonsdale.
Marquise-Therese Du Parc: Lisa Joyce.
De Brie: Michael Milligan.
Catherine De Brie: Liza Sadovy.
Director: Matthew Warchus.
Designer: Mark Thompson.
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone.
Sound: Simon Baker for Autograph.
Composer: Claire van Kampen.
Assistant director: Annabel Bolton.
Associate lighting: Tim Lutkin.