Review: The Man of Mode, National Theatre

The Man of Mode is a Restoration comedy of 1676 by George Etheredge, but has been given a thorough makeover here by Nicholas Hytner in a modern-day version which is playing in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre.

The story centres around the bed-hopping Dorimant, played here by an often shirtless, toned tattooed Tom Hardy who in a nutshell, is sleeping with Mrs Loveit, but in the midst of dumping her to sleep with Belinda, but also hunting after Harriet whom he wants to marry. So we follow Dorimant and his motley crew of followers and hangers-on from party to fashion shoot to opening in their world of wealth and celebrity. Played against this is the story of one of the followers Bellair, who is trying to escape an arranged marriage so he can pursue his true love (who his father also fancies), setting this in as Asian community as both stories wind their way to farcical ends.

Reflecting the updating of the story, the staging is fiercely modern, all sharp white and silver edges and the costumes are utterly fashionable. Many of the scene changes are covered by highly choreographed interludes which become good scenes in their own right: the opening fashion shoot full of cavorting and copulation, the bar-top dancing is fun and a glowstick-illuminated post-party comedown is most effective

The ensemble is full of brilliantly observed bit-players who provide some of the best moments of the night: Bertie Carvel’s camped-up Medley; Amber Agar’s astute and witty Harriet, Hayley Atwell’s impassioned Belinda, Madhav Sharma’s slightly sleazy father. In the bigger roles, I enjoyed Nancy Carroll’s strident Mrs Loveit but whilst Tom Hardy’s central Dorimant is gorgeous and radiating sexual confidence, his acting style feels slightly at odds with the modern-day setting and so he underwhelms. The night belongs to Rory Kinnear’s Francophile fop Sir Fopling Flutter, a ridiculous character obsessed always being at the cutting edge and so Kinnear has to pull off ever increasingly ridiculous items of fashion and pronouncements, all the while accompanied by a troupe of mime artists: just fabulous.

So a fun night out, if not one with huge amounts of depth, some of the superficiality which is being exposed here has sneaked its way into the production I fear. One doesn’t get a lot of insight into much here, the Anglo-Asian element is never explored, just a headlong rush of hedonistic pleasure. That said, it is a trip if you can get a reasonably priced ticket, if only to see Kinnear’s amazing song in the second half.

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