National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner directs George Etheredge’s 1676 Restoration comedy The Man of Mode, which joined the NT Olivier rep for an open-ended run last night (Tuesday 6 February 2007, See News, 2 Nov 2006).

Dorimant (Tom Hardy), who can generally charm any woman in town back to his apartment, can’t persuade Belinda (Hayley Atwell) into his bed until he’s promised to dump Loveit (Nancy Carroll), his current mistress. The play is set in a London obsessed with having it all, and takes a steely look at young people driven by the need to have the latest clothes, the latest gossip and each other’s bodies.

Overnight critics received the play with mixed opinions; while some enjoyed the modern spark added to the tangled plot of seduction and relationships, saying it added to the hilarity of the comedy and made the play feel more relevant today, others felt Hytner should have kept the play in period because the modern comparisons drawn by the director felt “forced.”

  • Michael Coveney on (5 stars) – “George Etherege’s scathingly funny portrait of London manners, fashions and hedonism is one of the most brilliant of Restoration comedies, and Nicholas Hytner’s revival in the Olivier is a stunningly brilliant production to match. In an age when style columns and fashion fascism are dominating our newspapers and magazines, Etherege’s play seems less a remote classic than a much-needed contemporary satire…. The dynamics of the comedy are powered by the Yorkshire ‘otherness’ of the Woodvill set, and also by the incursion from France of the play’s most famous character, Sir Fopling Flutter, the leader of the fashion pack…. Rory Kinnear rescues the role entirely from the Donald Sinden school of Restoration foppishness, embracing ever more ludicrous street styles with every appearance (bomber jackets, glitter shoes, distressed capes), surrounded by air-punching hoodies and delivering his Lully-style dead-of-night song as a tearful rock chanson at the piano. It is a brilliant performance.… A truly delirious and delightful evening.”

  • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (3 stars) - “Are classic plays now too boring, too irrelevant to attract the young, unless dolled up as plays for tomorrow? It increasingly looks as if the National Theatre's brilliant, influential director thinks so. Nicholas Hytner's admittedly seductive production of The Man Of Mode, George Etherege's 1676 comedy of grubby sexual politics and marriage-marketeering, follows the line of his cleverly updated versions of Henry V and Ben Jonson's The Alchemist….. Etherege's increasingly classless London, when well-heeled youngsters pursued sex as if supplies of it were running out, enjoys affinities with ours. Yet Etherege's heart and spirit, his scepticism about the sexual hurly-burly, is lost… Handsome Hardy makes Dorimant a cocky toyboy rather than a practised lecher. He catches Dorimant's narcissism but none of his exploitative nastiness.”

  • Rhoda Koenig in the Independent – “this show tries so hard to be hip, sexy, and relevant that its most noticeable quality is its strenuous desire to impress…. Like Sir Fopling Flutter, who affects a haughty expression while crawling sycophantically after every whim of fashion, the show emphasises the coldness and callowness of its philandering hero yet sighs over him like any stagestruck groupie…. Tom Hardy's Dorimant never stops grinning in self-approbation and swerving his hips in invitation or reminiscence…. This cast is largely unintelligible, a grave problem in a play that has such a complex plot of crisscrossing and mismatched lovers. The semaphore-signal acting - lots of waving and whirling arms - doesn't really compensate, but then it doesn't look very realistic either… The heart of the play, though, seems to be in the wordless sections that Hytner has added to cover scene changes - a group of girls in red underwear or bare-chested lads with butterfly nets fixed to their bottoms grope themselves or jump about and scowl - a performance I found funnier than any of the label-checks.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (3 stars) - “Updating classics has become Nicholas Hytner's National forte. But what worked with Henry V and The Alchemist feels a touch strenuous in the case of George Etherege's 1676 comedy of bad manners…. The fun certainly comes out here, most especially in Rory Kinnear's dazzling performance as Sir Fopling Flutter who arrives ‘piping hot from Paris.’ Kinnear brilliantly gives us a man who with his Gallic phrases and accompanying troupe of French mimes strives for an imported chic…. some of the most secure performances come from relative onlookers such as Bertie Carvel as Dorimant's camp fellow-traveller and Madhav Sharma as a rich businessman besotted by his son's secret innamorata.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Concentrating almost exclusively on wit, wealth, style and seduction, they present a hermetic, leisured society that seems worlds removed from the vulgarity, banality and ugliness of Blair's Britain. It's perhaps for this reason that Restoration comedies are rarely revived these days, and when they are, they are usually firmly set in period… Nicholas Hytner is having no truck with such heritage theatre. In his cracking new production… he drags the play kicking but only occasionally screaming into the 21st century, in particular into the world of the super-rich and hip in fashionable London today. In this production, it would be no surprise if Bryan Ferry, Kate Moss, Hugh Grant or Jemima Khan were to wander on stage as members of the supporting cast, with Sir Elton John arriving to do a turn as the preposterous Sir Fopling Flutter. Hytner also makes sense of a plot that includes arranged marriages by having several members of the cast played by Asian actors. In short Hytner has created a coherent and persuasive modern equivalent of Restoration high society, and as a result the old comedy sparkles and shocks anew.”

    - by Caroline Ansdell