The Libertine

Maidment Theatre - Musgrove Studio, Auckland

29/04/2009 - 09/05/2009

Production Details

Meet John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. Poet. Playwright. Playboy. Notorious womaniser. Lover of pornography and scandal. And a man, so consumed with wine and women, that he debauched his way to an early grave at 33. The pleasure is all his.

Stage Two Productions and Theatre of Love presents the wildly entertaining play The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys. Popularised in a 2004 film starring Johnny Depp, it tells the story of the roguish Wilmot and the moment his profound cynicism is confounded when he falls in love with the first great actress of the modern stage, Elizabeth Barry.

Thoroughly modern in its appeal – part history-lesson, part-drama, part comic farce – it is a rollicking tale through the theatres and brothels of 17th Century London.

Director Oliver Page believes The Libertine, first performed in 1994, is especially relevant to the ever darkening world of the late 2000s. "In such difficult times can we be satisfied solely by pursuits of the flesh? Can we seek release through excess? Can the Arts innate ability to put things in perspective ever be enough to give us piece of mind?"

A score, featuring music from the period, has been specially prepared for this production and in a rare treat; two live musicians will accompany the action onstage.

Stage Two Productions has carved a name for itself for daring theatre. Recent productions include Patrick Graham’s White Trash Omnibus, Roderick D.Morgan’s Suburbia and Thomas Sainsbury’s Caustic.

Do not resist temptation. Pursue it.

29 April – 09 May 2009
Musgrove Studio

Telephone bookings: (09) 308 2383
book tickets online

2 hrs 45 mins, incl. interval

Succumbing to temptation

Review by Venus Stephens 01st May 2009

The program implores you: "Do not resist temptation. Pursue it."  

I am not one to turn down such a challenge, at least one inflected with the promise of debauchery; swearing and general wanton behaviour. The Libertine is given a 21st Century outing by an impressive cast of student performers who ably operate Stage Two productions under the mantle of the Drama Association at Auckland University.

Through them, we are given a voyeuristic glimpse into the 17th century courtier life of one John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, "Poet. Playwright. Playboy." The release describes him perfectly: "Notorious womaniser. Lover of pornography and scandal. And a man so consumed with wine and women, that he debauched his way to an early grave at 33 … The pleasure is all his." 

With a cast of thirteen, The Libertine seems in the first instance an epic (I use the word loosely) undertaking for such a fresh crew of talent.  The script is heavily laden with laborious 17th Century speech as ornamental and gilded as the period’s furniture. None of this seems a hurdle to the equally talent-heavy cast, who all hold their tongues deftly, leaving no fault to be mentioned in regard to the delivery and intonation required by their individual characters.

Upon arrival, Pianist and Musical Director Robin Kelly treat us to the dulcet tones of music from the Restoration era … until the curtain goes up and the merriment begins.

Enter John Wilmot, grating presence, hooded eyes, declaring in a spittingly caustic tone "you will not like me …" Delivered by Charles Louwrens, he seems to me more a gentleman rogue than a licentious rake.  He has the wit, the sexy rock star front but his genitalia-flecked speech still fails to sell him (in my opinion) as a downright dirty bastard.  His Wilmot commands attention from start to conclusion, cleverly manipulating all and sundry in his wake.  

Beatrice Hudson’s performance as his long-suffering country wife Elizabeth Mallet is flawless. She haunts the stage not only with her ethereal beauty but also her resilient presence as a passionate but emotionally tortured wife. She manages to communicate strength, despair and resolve, almost all in the same breath.

The ‘other woman’, the emergent muse and protégé Elizabeth Barry, appears quiet and dare I say simple; nondescript in her initial demeanour. The push-over guise has me convinced she is a non event until she protests her worth in the playhouse scene during a vocal spat that sees the usually cocky Earl of Rochester succumb limply to her quick fire barbs  (indulge me the bad puns). Chanel Turner is beguiling as Elizabeth Barry; my only complaint is that the strong streak that bites out in her character’s lines is not exercised more.

Nobility is represented by Tama Boyle, as Charles II. Stern in his demeanour he strikes me with the ease he has on stage in his dual roles, as Charles II and the Constable.

Wilmot’s ever present sidekicks are the deliciously bewigged Earl of Dorset and Middlesex (Lewis Bostock), playwright George Etheridge (Peter Hibberdine), resident ‘lady of the night’ and cad plaything Jane (Chantelle Landais), impressionable and ambitious spark, effervescent toy boy of the posse Billy Downs (Luke Thornborough).

All individual in their needs, they collectively feed off each other’s sexual energy and sexual availability, successfully creating a credible ‘family’ of misfits who shag, drink, abuse and misuse together. Each actor represents the finer nuances of their individual characters, thus elevating the badass appeal of the Earl of Rochester by association.

The lighting and set are simply utilised with three table chairs, a draped black desk and chaise longue. Miscellaneous props feature wine goblets, red wine and the inventive inclusion of three pasty grey coloured dildos which feature in an upbeat dance piece!

Now mention must be made of the ‘lowly folk’ (the aforementioned having gained precedence according to their pecking order in the script and society). Rhiann Munro plays the streetwise businesswomen Mrs Ufton and Mrs Wade with aplomb, employing sluggish, working class speech and buzzy efficiency, her voluptuous grace charging both with believable grit.

Jane Hargis gives the role of Molly Luscombe, a stage manager, a matronly twist, assuming the unsaid mantle of stage mother. Although her character calls for a non emotional guise, she communicates not only a love for the theatre; but also a hidden empathy for others.

Ben Moore gives servant Tom Alcock a greasy breath of life, dislikeable from the outset which means that Moore serves the character well. It would be interesting to see him in the role of the Earl of Rochester; his cocky swagger may give the Earl’s façade another dimension.

Now to Huysman the painter and Pike the mistaken law man, played by Socrates Fernandes.  What a delicious pout! I swear those lips were made for rouge! You were on for but a moment yet I will hold the last scene with you as Pike endearingly to memory, not for the violence of your action but for the ridiculousness of your wig! Please, put that divine accent and talent to work again.

Last two commendations go to James Wenley as Harry Harris, an actor (on stage), and producer of The Libertine, and to Oliver Page, the director, untested no more. Well done both.

Go: be tempted.
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