Review – The Man of Mode

Tuesday 30 January 2007

Man of Mode National Theatre posterAs of today, the West End Whingers have a new “first rule” of theatre: never attend a first preview.

A day too late, unfortunately, as last night saw them at the packed first preview of the National Theatre’s production of The Man of Mode and after 3 hours and 5 minutes of this comedy they were certainly in need of some restoration.

Not that it was bad, but just so awfully long. Midway through the second act Phil, bless him, was nervously consulting his wristwatch every three minutes, fretting that we wouldn’t be out in time for last orders.

Tom Hardy in The Man of ModeDirector Nicholas Hytner has retained the original text but set George Etherege‘s 1676 play in contemporary London. It revolves around the attempts of rake and playboy Dorimant (eye candy Tom Hardy, left) to juggle three mistresses (you see there really was nothing new about Boeing, Boeing even in the 1960s).

The updating works well, not least with Hytner taking the opportunity of an arranged marriage subplot to cast many Asian performers (including Indira Joshi from The Kumars at No 42). Money saved on expensive restoration wigs and costumes has been spent on a stylish set – but it’s a risk – when you set out to be this modish it dates before you’re even out of previews. Where were the metallic leggings and cobalt blues ?

Although Hardy fails to carry the play as the role demands, many of the performances are excellent. We particularly enjoyed Penny Ryder and were thrilled to see listed in her biography the upcoming Dench-fest movie Notes on a Scandal in which she plays, umm, the back of Dame Judi’s head (“Stand-In for Ms Dench” according to Yahoo Movies).

But the show belongs to Rory Kinnear as the eponymous “man of mode” – Sir Fopling Flutter – who steals every scene with his fine comic talents (and also impresses by playing the piano). As the son of the wonderful Roy Kinnear comedy is clearly in his blood.

In spite of the best efforts of the cast, it does flag, especially in the second act. Their task of keeping the energy up isn’t helped by very laborious set changes from which Hytner tries to distract us with some rather tiresome dance routines (!). Is the Olivier theatre’s drum revolve too expensive to use or is Hytner worried about his carbon footprints? Frankly, we would have been more relaxed if the show had just ploughed on through the words in order to get the running time down to the 2 hours 55 minutes advertised in the programme.

A kind usherette – sensing our unease – even assured us that they were “hoping to get it down to about 2 hours 40”.

Hytner has more than a week (the play opens Thursday 8th February) to snip it to a watchable length.

10 Responses to “Review – The Man of Mode”

  1. Lovida Coleman Says:

    You Brits are spoiled. We took a long shot from the USA for the Saturday night preview. Fine acting. Kinetic presentation. When Hardy blew his lines at one point and stayed cool and laughed at himself, it was a delight.

    The second act did lag somewhat. Harriet needs to pump up her critical role in the second act; her rehersal of love acting in the first act was superb. If Tom relaxed some of his classical arm motions, the residue would be more effective.

    We thought the dancing was terrific.

    The seating and stage view were perfect.

    The walk afterwards across the bridge to the tube was glorious on a moonlit night.

    I would love to see the production again later on. Too bad London is so expensive.

    Lovida Coleman


  2. It came in at just under the 3 hour mark when I saw it this week. An enjoyable evening in many ways but it could have benefited from being a little tighter. As with Southwark Fair, Rory Kinnear was the best thing in it by a long way. His love song was still making me giggle the following morning.

  3. biped Says:

    I didn’t feel the play was too long, but it could have done with a few less dance scenes. Some of them were dead funny (well, one was), but overall they were a bit pants. Not half as bad though as the ‘hilarious dancing’ in Aggripina, another Hytner production. And the ENO do have a curtain, so there is no excuse.

    And we had a few moments of true exitement as well: barefoot dancing on stage after someone had smashed a glass in the drinking game scene. We kept staring at the shards and waited for the blood and tears.


  4. Thanks all for your comments. We’re very upset to have missed the broken glass incident, biped. Sounds like just our cup of tea. We love a bit of frisson.

  5. miki Says:

    great to have such strong female characters played with such relish- especially the witty and sexy harriet (amber agar)

    some of the comedy was a bit panto and too contrived…for me the humour lay with the less obviously playing for laughs characters

  6. Mike Park Says:

    Well, we saw this on 17th April, and although it may have speeded up a little, Tom Hardy has become inaudible. We were in central stalls, Row M, and could barely hear a word.
    It’s an exciting interpretation of the play, but the complexities of Restoration comedy become overwhelming if one needs an ear trumpet.

  7. harry Says:

    I thought nancy carrol was dreadful..is this panto? and rory kinnear- please! some originality! what a lame and childish performance! thank god for amber agar as harriet and bertie carvel as medly….less panto and more truth please…less panto nancy!

  8. mary Says:

    nancy carroll was awful she shouted the whole time! who is she? why did she get the part?

  9. ted lane Says:

    Nancy Caroll and Tom Hardy were AWFUL. We couldnt hear him and she brayed all the time! What a combination!


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