A Mad World My Masters

Posted on: 07 May 2015 by Laurence Green

Take a Jacobean satire update it to seedy 1950s Soho and the result is Sean Foley’s RSC production of Thomas Middleton’s 1605 comedy A Mad World My Masters at the Barbican Theatre and then on tour.

A Mad World My Masters

The main strand of the story centres on the attempt by Dick Follywit to get his hands on the fortune of his rich uncle, Sir Bounteous Peersucker, and to achieve his ambition he turns con man, variously becoming a lord, a call-girl and – God forbid – a poor actor. But beautiful Soho tart, Miss Truly Kidman, who also happens to be his uncle’s mistress, is also on the scam. Running parallel to this are the attempts of the upright Penitent Brothel to seduce the wife of an insanely jealous husband, known as Mr. Littledick.

In this mad, boisterous world, glamour rubs up against filth, and likes it; the posh mix with musicians, prostitutes and racketeers, and a bachelor in need of cash is forced to live on his wits.

I feel Sean Foley and Phil Porter with whom he co-edited the text, do the play a disservice by setting it in post-war London, as Middleton’s biting satire of a world obsessed by money and sex speaks for itself. The plot, though, sticks as close as it can to the original and the production is staged with flair and exuberance, although it is unnecessarily crude at times and the humour milked for all its worth. Indeed it is only in the final scene when all the characters sport Jacobean fancy dress that the play really captures the spirit of the original and there is a sudden congruity between word and action.

The show, which comes complete with 1950s songs, delivered with soulful intensive by Linda John-Pierre is put across with zest by an accomplished cast including Joe Bannister as the frantic Follywit, Sarah Ridgeway as inventive sex worker Miss Truly Kidman, Ian Redford as the wealthy Sir Bounteous Peersucker, and Jonny Woldon as a senile butler whose hearing reverberates every time he enters or leaves a room

Runs until Saturday May 9

Box office: 0845 120 7511

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