Beau Brummell is in exile from England having run up huge gambling debts, bankrupted his friends and offended his once close friend the Prince of Wales. The play is set in Calais where the quietly insane Beau is living in a madhouse with his valet, Austin. Based on a true story, ‘Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness’ at The Exchange Studio, Maidstone, showed the demise of England’s first celebrity – Beau Brummell.
Having received five curtain calls in Dusseldorf earlier on in the tour, this production packed a punch and the Maidstone audience demanded two curtain calls at the end of what was a genuinely enjoyable night of entertainment.
The intimate setting of the Exchange Studio gave the audience a chance to engage fully with ‘Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness’ and yet there was a gravitas to the atmosphere which expanded the play off stage, to fill every space. This engagement was created through the delivery and emphasis of Ron Hutchinson’s clever writing and the precise timing, constant wit and harmony of the acting duo made this a joy to watch.
In my opinion, the continued wit throughout the performance was the key to it’s success. Beau Brummell utters lines such as “I was the Beethoven of snuff!” and “How can one be lonely with a looking glass?”
Laughing at a madman sounds so very wrong and yet I laughed, along with the rest of the audience, because irony screamed from the situation and if I hadn’t laughed, I would have cried for the tormented situation Beau Brummell finds himself in, entirely of his own doing.
Produced by European Arts Company and Dual Theatre, ‘Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness’ is theatre as it should be. With a full cast of two actors there is nowhere to hide on stage and the success or failure of the night laid squarely on their shoulders. Both Beau Brummell (Sean Brosnan) and his Valet, Austin, (Richard Latham) rose to the challenge and their years of professional acting shone through. Both are actors of great experience and to watch them both recite such complicated and emotive dialogue as if it were their own was a skill to behold.
When wit was not a focus there was tremendous poignancy. Austin still dreams of entrepreneurial endeavours which he is evidently too old and compromised to carry through and Beau’s childlike innocence of the situation finds you sympathising over his pretend conversations with pretend visitors. His tattered garments were in stark contrast to his previous life where his celebrity revolved around his dress sense.
We have Beau Brummell to thank for getting rid of the peacock fashion of the 1700’s where powdered wigs were all the rage. He introduced clean lines, fitted garments and white linen shirts for men but his fashion sense could not save him from debtors jail or the scorn of the Prince of Wales.
There is no doubting the sad situation Brummell finds himself in but pity is not part of the play. If Beau becomes melancholy and suicidal Austin snaps him back to Beau’s ‘happy place’ – which turns out to be within his madness.
Less experienced actors would have struggled to create the synergy between the characters on stage but Richard Latham and Sean Brosnan pulled this off with aplomb.
If you missed this production I urge you to look out for it’s return and see true acting talent in action.
See future productions and more information go to the European Arts Company website.