In the first of what should be a number of collaborations between the Citizen Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, Dominic Hill's production of The Libertine, recently seen at the Citz's Glasgow home has travelled south. Its first professional revival since Max Stafford Clarke's Out Of Joint original in 1994 (though its had frequent revivals in drama schools the width and breath of the country), Stephen Jeffrey's play starts off cocksure and full to the brim with life, but like the protagonist John Wilmot, who falls from grace and health, the light of this play begins to fade in the second half.
The Libertine is a fictionalised account of Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, notorious rake but with a gift for language that Jeffrey's obviously believed could have made him the toast of Restoration Theatre. Instead he boozed and whored his way round London, squandering what talent he had until it was to late, falling ill and watching his friend and cronie George Etheridge gain what could have been his as he premieres A Man of Mode.
The first hour is daring and exciting, the characters are having fun and consequently so are we. There is even a frisson of danger in Hill's production as the characters invade the auditorium and give us just a little sense of what play-going may have been like in the time of Charles II. However as the mood darkens so does the energy and a long evening (the play runs 3 hours) begins to drag. Hill, who has gained a reputation for being one of Britain's most exciting directors, doesn't seem to possess the answers and so the play becomes static, preachy and heavy handed.
It is a pleasure watching Martin Hutson graduate from a sterling side turn opposite Dominic West in Butley a few years ago into leading man. He plays intelligence well and can turn a thought on a dime. He has that playful swagger that makes you believe women would go weak at the knees, even if he doesn't possess the same physical qualities as Mr Depp (which of us does!) If the anger and decline feels a little safe and controlled it matches the overall aesthetic of the work.
The supporting cast each have their moments. There is a rollicking ‘ho-rah Henry' monarch from John Hodgkinson, an extravagantly foppish acquaintance by Andy Clark, the tart with a heart from Elexi Walker and a dignified restrained wife from Lucianne McEvoy and her polar opposite in the forceful independent actress who Rochester falls in love with played by the fresh faced Gillian Saker.