As 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.
Director 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.