Restora­tion romps and mon­key busi­ness

Michael Billing­ton salutes Do­minic Cooper’s Earl of Rochester, an un­like­able rake but one with depth, ad­mires John Malkovich’s lat­est pro­duc­tion and learns a lot about the Amer­i­can Civil War

Country Life Every Week - - Performing Arts -

I have a few quib­bles. the play doesn’t give us enough of Rochester’s po­etry and it glibly as­sumes he was the au­thor of a porno­graphic playlet, Sodom, which was set be­fore the king; ac­cord­ing to the di­arist, An­thony Wood, the real au­thor was ‘one Fish­bourne, a wretched Scrib­bler’.

But the play bursts with en­ergy, terry John­son’s pro­duc­tion cap­tures the back-bit­ing pol­i­tics of Restora­tion theatre and Mr Cooper, in­stead of set­ting out to charm us, con­veys the brood­ing me­lan­choly of the ded­i­cated plea­sure-seeker. there is good sup­port from Jasper Brit­ton as a tetchily tol­er­ant Charles II, from Ophe­lia Lovi­bond as the fiercely in­de­pen­dent Mrs Barry and from Alice Bai­ley John­son as Rochester’s rus­ti­cated wife.

In the end, I sus­pect the play is about the yawn­ing gulf be­tween the ideal and the real. We may be se­duced by the dash­ing beaux of Restora­tion com­edy, but Mr Jef­freys shows the wan­ton self­de­struc­tive­ness of the man who in­spired many of them.

Mr Jef­freys’s play was first seen in 1994 and, when it had its Amer­i­can pre­miere at Chicago’s Step­pen­wolf, Rochester was played by John Malkovich. now, the ver­sa­tile Mr Malkovich turns up at the Rose, Kingston, as di­rec­tor of Good Ca­nary, a play by the Amer­i­can screen­writer Zach Helm that was first seen in Paris in 2007.

If I say that the play is partly about ad­dic­tion and that its hero­ine, An­nie, is high on am­phet­a­mines, I sus­pect many will be put off, but it is sharp, witty and ob­ser­vant and charts very well the deep love of An­nie’s hus­band, Jack, for his reck­less and highly in­tel­li­gent wife.

there is a plot twist, in­volv­ing Jack’s de­but as a nov­el­ist, which I didn’t re­ally believe. nor could I ac­cept that, in this day and age, a lead­ing new York critic would be so fool­ish as to say that mod­ern women novelists can’t write male char­ac­ters. But Mr Malkovich’s pro­duc­tion is first rate and beau­ti­fully de­signed by Pierre-fran­cois Lim­bosch, whose pro­jec­tions of new York streets have a Hock­ney­like vivid­ness, and Freya Ma­vor is might­ily im­pres­sive as An­nie, not least when she turns cart­wheels while clean­ing her apart­ment with pu­ri­tan­i­cal zeal.

Down with the girls: Do­minic Cooper plays the Earl of Rochester in Stephen Jef­freys’s The Lib­er­tine

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