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A Mad World My Masters

July 4, 2013

Thomas Middleton‘s 1605 restoration comedy A MAD WORLD MY MASTERS has been transposed into Soho of the 1960’s in Sean Foley‘s production at the Swan at the RSC. It is supposed to be a hilarious farce BUT unfortunately the first act felt like one of the poorer Carry On films. I think this is a case of where the play has got totally lost inside the design concept. The play opens with a well choreographed drunken fight in a moody 60’s night club with a sultry black singer setting great expectations. Then someone turns the lights on and we see a succession of brightly lit scenes in bedrooms and offices with colourful costumes and lots of antics but just not funny. I felt like they had tried to match the brilliant “One Man Two Governors” but failed. I looked to see that most of the audience had that face I was pulling, that face which feels like an effort to smile in the hope that the play will take over, but it just doesn’t so you sit there transfixed.

It does actually get better in the second act and I think some of this is because the cast revert to restoration comedy costumes with the plot foil that they are attending a fancy dress party. The design is forced into the background and the actors performances take over. It feels a bit like a mutiny with the same excellent ensemble that performed “Titus” last week projecting the text with more self belief which gives more connection with the audience. John Hopkins, Ian Redford, Ciaran Owens and Ishia Bennison give excellent performances. In the end the tremendous effort by the cast almost redeems the play but not quite enough for me to recommend spending money to sit through it.

On leaving the theatre I was reading the programme as I read that Sean Foley directed “The Ladykillers” which I saw last year on tour at the Grand in Wolverhampton. That was a real case of style over substance and it was so awful that Lizzie Spooner and I left in the interval after the first Act. This play was nowhere near that level of dreadfulness but I am hoping that Sean Foley will not be returning any time soon to take up the precious space at the Swan.

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