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Theatre review: A Mad World My Masters at the Barbican

PUBLISHED: 12:09 12 May 2015

A Mad World My Masters. Picture: Manuel Harlan

A Mad World My Masters. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Manuel Harlan

This '50s take on a Jacobean romp is fun, if bawdy, says Shyama Perera

There is something wonderfully nostalgic about the RSC and English Touring Theatre’s travelling feast, A Mad World My Masters. It’s like a 3D seaside postcard from the 1950s where every double entendre has a built-in giggle and the action is directed with the exaggeration and frenetic pace of an end of pier production at Cromer. Is it fun? Yes. But it sits uncomfortably in the Barbican’s formal auditorium, which demands a better class of guest.

Sean Foley’s production is set in 1950s Soho, where the rich and the seedy are hanging out in nightclubs and hatching plots. We meet the lovely prostitute, Truly Kidman, who has had her virginity auctioned off 15 times by a mother who stitches her up between customers, and the characters who will lead proceedings across three hours: Dick Follywit, Mr Littledick, and Sir Bounteous Peersucker. You get the idea.

If there are any deeper social themes in Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean romp, beyond woman’s universal yearning for better sex and man’s universal yearning for more money, they are lost in this updating. Proceedings are led by Dick – the charming Joe Bannister – who is trying to get his hands on an inheritance that his uncle, Sir Bounteous, has promised.

There is, of course, much joy to be had: bucket loads of bawdy relish to spread on your toast. The visuals are terrific. There are a couple of glorious scenes, one of shadow sex in a four poster bed, and another where Sir Bounteous and Dick are bound hand and foot and required to hop like rabbits around the room.

What we have in this reworking by Sean Foley and Phil Porter is a play where Viz meets Loaded. While it’s none the worse for that, it is not any better. If you’ve had a few bevvies beforehand however, you’ll think it sublime.

Rating: 3/5

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