Dir: Dominic Hill, Citizens Theatre, 3-24th May
Stephen Jeffery’s 1994-penned The Libertine is a fine example of Restoration Comedy; where looking and being looked at among the crowd is just as important as the performers on stage.
However, with the help of the Second Earl of Rochester, the plain Miss Barry may swap her hecklers for fans and admirers. That is, within the world of the play. Actress Gillian Saker is both beautiful and captivating within her role, and her chemistry with Martin Huston’s Earl allows a shred of love to hold strong beneath a narrative that is otherwise entirely sex.
Hill’s production works hard to capture the atmosphere of Restoration comedy, from actors scattered throughout the audience and engagingly directly with them, to the complete bawdiness of every word, intonation and action the actors make. From flying penises to vegetable-dildo substitutes, The Libertine is more than laced with innuendo, but it has it’s political suggestions as well. The sex-soaked play within a play attacks the rein of Charles II (portrayed by John Hodgkinson), who Horrible Histories may call the King who invented partying, but is far from sympathetic in this production.
The character arcs over the lengthy performance are strong, but none more so than that of Billy Downs, played by Charlie Archer. His transformation from excited yet innocent young boy to lustful and alcohol driven wit is chilling in its close, and Archer’s nuance keeps him rising throughout a cautionary tale that could seem preachy if it handled with less finesse. That is not to say the performance never slips into preaching, but a preaching that is intentional.
Special attention is paid to the beautiful costuming and heavy make up, which not only aims to accurately represent the theatrical style of the restoration, but acts as a symbol for the artifice and performance that colours every minute of these characters’ lives. In the performance’s final moments, they swap the furious reapplication of make up for wipes and slowly begin to remove their disguise, finally showing their true selves only at the very end.