Beau Brummel – An Elegant Madness, Jermyn Street Theatre

Locked away in a convent in Calais, a mad Beau Brummel and his valet bide their time until the visiting Prince of Wales passes. Disgraced by debts acquired from living well beyond his means, Brummel escaped to France – but his past eventually caught up with him. Will the prince catch sight of his old friend and rescue him? Or will Beau be consigned to life’s scrap heap, forever forgotten, fallen from the pinnacle of London’s social elites?

Ron Hutchinson’s script follows a Beckettian trajectory executed with Wildean wit, and the combination is surprisingly good. This fictionalised snapshot of history depicts two men in their twilight years with a superficial layer of humour that lets the sadness and despair peak through just enough to not weigh down the pace. Beau is such a ridiculous figure that the valet’s working class, common-sense nature does not need to be exaggerated; there is plenty of contrast in the language. Beau’s verbose banter about clothes, parties and women is also a biting satire of the remote upper classes, the notion of celebrity and its transience. It is pointedly relevant, and whilst the Beau that Hutchinson scripts elicits sympathy, there’s a certain amount of satisfying schadenfreude.

Though little happens, the rich language helps counter an almost totally static plot. It’s a pleasure to listen to and would make a marvellous radio play, were it shorter. Even on stage, half an hour could easily be cut from this text and not be missed.

Sean Brosnan and Richard Latham are Beau and the valet. There’s a gentle camaraderie between the two actors and their relationship is delightfully complex. Brosnan is particularly effective at capturing the existential sadness of a man once famous, now forgotten. Latham has just enough of an edge to add tension and a bit of danger.

Well performed with a script that is a pleasure to listen to, the frivolous comedy gives way to bigger issues without aggressively hammering them. Though it’s longer than it needs to be and the lack of anything actually happening can be frustrating, this is a production that is delightfully relevant and multi-faceted.

Beau Brummel – An Elegant Madness runs through 11 March.

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