Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness
European Arts Company in association with Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre
From 13 February 2017 to 11 March 2017
Review by Keith Mckenna
Ron Hutchinson constructs some fine sentences in his play Beau Brummell—An Elegant Madness. Many of these sentences are also gently funny. Spoken by the snobbish character of Beau Brummell (Seán Brosnan) they often take the form of pithy cynical observations about England.
However the fine sentences are not interesting enough to make up for the slight plot, the one-dimensional and clumsy characterisation and a production that didn’t seem entirely sure what it wanted to do with the play.
The show opens with an older Beau Brummell sitting in a tin bath threatening to cut his throat with a razor. Later he does the same thing with a knife. On both occasions it looks unconvincing.
He is penniless, living in an untidy convent room in Calais and suffering some mental confusion that might be connected to syphilis. At times he pretends or perhaps genuinely imagines he is greeting important people to his room.
He is helped in the long, slow process of getting dressed by the unpaid valet Austin (Richard Latham). Since the dressing is the most active part of the play (emphasised by a spotlight at certain times), there was probably more than one member of the audience who felt the urge to jump onto the stage to help speed the process up.
When Austin isn’t helping Brummell dress, he is suggesting odd schemes to make money, though he does so in an elaborately suspicious manner that Brummell does not seem to notice.
Austen seems politically radical, telling Brummell that there are "men all over Britain who have fought for him (the King) and now they are starving". England he compares to "a rotten cheese crawling with maggots."
But his characterisation is slight and then not entirely consistent. At one point, he grabs a pistol announcing to Brummell that he intends to shoot dead the King whom they are expecting to visit. When the King does pass the window of the room, he simply salutes while singing the national anthem.
If Austen’s character seems one-dimensional, then Brummell’s character seems even less. He makes long, complaining speeches, barely engages with his valet or the world and having finally got dressed starts to take his clothes off again.
We can neither believe in the characters nor particularly care what happens to them.
This is simply a play with a lot of good sentences that can’t make up for the slowness of the action, the lack of a plot and the poor characterisation.