This new comedy by Ron Hutchinson is sharp and amusing, with some great one-liners delivered by an outstanding cast.
The show, directed by Caroline Hunt, has been touring the UK under the title “Beau Brummell” before arriving in the West End. However, I must say I’m a little concerned that this fine production will not survive long. I say this because the theatre was only about 25 per cent full.
The story, set in 1819, concerns the pompous Beau Brummell, who has fled to Calais to escape his gambling debts, only to find that his only refuge can be found in a convent. He is now a broken man who is destitute. However, this does not stop him expressing his opinions on every topic imaginable to Austin, his valet. While defending the monarchy from Austin, who is a confirmed republican, he quips along the lines of ‘Who cares if a orchestra is full of drunks and whores and the conductor has a preference for young boys, it is the music that counts. Similarly, who cares if the Prince is a fat odious lump, it is the idea of monarchy that counts’.
When The Prince Regent, whose friendship he lost after a reckless quip, arrives in Calais, Beau and Austin hope this may be the end of their self-imposed exile and financial difficulties.
Peter Bowles is terrific as Beau Brummell. He excels with great comic timing and beautifully portrays a stylish famous man who has now lost everything, including his ‘mind’. You laugh, but you also feel pain for Beau when he dresses in his only ‘decent’ suit to hopefully meet the Prince Regent. I have seen Peter Bowles in many productions and this is by far his best performance.
Playing opposite Bowles is Richard McCabe who plays Austin. He is a great sidekick and creates an effective and magnificent double act. It is never quite explained what is the relationship between Beau and Austin. Is it one of Master and servant, one based on sympathy born out of friendship, one based on mutual convenience, or is it a combination of all three? Whatever it is, it is this relationship that makes the play so intriguing.
Ashley Martin-Davies has designed a set that perfectly matches the demise and state of Beau, with padded walls, dirty linen and only bare essentials in the one dingy room that both men live in.
The play has received mixed reviews from the popular press…IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, “ The play is a modest, entertaining enough two-hander.” However, he goes on to say, “This dandy drama doesn’t quite come up to snuff.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, there is “little narrative tension” in the play and describes the production as “so-so”. PATRICK MARMION for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Like Regency England's best-dressed man, Ron Hutchinson's new play is immaculately turned out and overflowing with epigrammatic wit.” BRIAN LOGAN for THE GUARDIAN says, “The production's terminal problem is the pair's relationship. They don't have one: neither actors nor characters communicate. There's no tension, joy or dynamism between them to compensate for the play's narrative inertia.” LUCY POWELL for TIME OUT says, "A very bland and disappointing, if gently engaging play." ALEXA BARACAIA for THE STAGE says, "Engaging and humorous enough.....but grows more than a little stale."
Lasting 2 hours with an interval, “The Beau” is a charming and thoughtful play that is well worth seeing.