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A CurtainUp London Review
The Oxford Stage Company was recently renamed as the Headlong Theatre Company and as Headlong are reviving Bondís play Restoration in a touring production, seen here at the wonderfully ornate Hackney Empire. Artistic Director of Headlong, Rupert Goold, who is currently guest directing at the Royal Shakespeare Company with his acclaimed production of The Tempest starring Patrick Stewart ( our review), directs Restoration. Mark Lockyer, a brilliant actor, especially know for his comedy, caricature roles takes the lead as the foppish, evil aristocrat, Lord Are.
Restoration which is a later Bond play, having been first produced in 1981 and revived by the Royal Shakespeare Company with Simon Russell Beale in 1988, has been more commercially successful than the rest of Bondís work. It is set in the early eighteenth century, the era when Beau Brummel was hounded from the country owing hundreds of guineas he had lost playing piquet and where men were at their most peacock clad, with wigs and patches and high heeled shoes set with precious stones. In terms of male vanity, that era can only be rivalled today with the growth in business terms of the market in male cosmetics and fashions. The early eighteenth century upper class preoccupation with appearance forms a fascinating juxtaposition with the twenty first century obsessions with cosmetic surgery, from boob jobs to face lifts, and the designer garments and accessories of our celebrity-dominated popular culture. What Bondís Restoration does is to show the underclass that slaved and struggled to support this tiny majority of vain aristocrats and landowners. Bondís play is aimed at exposing the shallowness and superficiality of those Restoration comedies by playwrights like Sheridan, Goldsmith and Vanbrugh.
The story tells how Lord Are (Mark Lockyer) marries a rich manís daughter for money; his wife Ann (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) marries him for his title and a hoped for, early and rich, widowhood. She is terribly disappointed to be stuck in the country rather than in society in town. Areís ambition in life is to have a fashion named after him, like a hat or a cape or a boot. He has a villainous disregard, disrespect and distaste for those employed by him. Are kills his wife and frames his manservant Bob (Mark Stobbart) who is duped into thinking that he has killed his mistress. Bobís wife Rose (Madeleine Appiah) secures a pardon for her husband but Are tricks Bobís illiterate mother into destroying it and Bob is hanged on the gallows.
If anyone can carry off the part of Lord Are, it is Mark Lockyer with his wonderful retroussť profile covered in white paint and his eyes blackened like a pair of bruised eyes, painted on red lips and his most petulant and complaining voice. Indeed the part could have been written for him.
Lord Are is a total slave to fashion at the expense of any shred of humanity. The opening scene has him posing for a portrait draped on an oak tree with a scarf caught up as if he is hanging from it, in a cruel parody of the closing scene which sees Bob hang. Are outmanoeuvres at every turn the gullible Bob and Bobís wife, a plucky but ultimately powerless Rose. The Parson urges Bob to seek salvation rather than a pardon and Bobís mother is cowed into an acceptance of her familyís lowly place in the scheme of things. Maybe Lockyer is too much the comedian for us to feel an icy chill at his callous and ruthless behaviour in contriving Bobís death for a crime he did not commit.
Lord Areís mother (Beverley Klein), we are told, was a royal mistress and in her scenes she stands atop a six feet high rubbish heap as if the detritus is a huge crinoline skirt, a symbol of the corruption and decadence which gave birth to Lord Are. The play has several songs, pleasant tunes with biting lyrics, two of which are new to this production. The action pales in the second half which seems overly long, maybe feeling the lack of scenes figuring the extravagant Mark Lockyer. Lord Areís silk costumes and wig are of course extreme with a costume change almost every scene.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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