Review Round-Ups

Did Dominic Cooper seduce the critics in The Libertine?

The revival of Stephen Jeffreys’ play opened in the West End last night

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"It's a bold play that begins with its leading man addressing the audience and telling them firmly: "You will not like me." The problem with The Libertine is that not only did I not like its anti-hero, the Reformation poet and wit John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, I didn't much like the play either.

"Dominic Cooper brings a saturnine assurance to Rochester, without perhaps ever finding quite the devilish charm or the depths of despair that make him a subject of interest. It's a confident performance, but one that lacks much modulation."

"The Libertine ends up as a fairly straight-forward biographical study. And as one damn thing follows another and Rochester hurtles towards his end, it is just rather dull."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Cooper rightly makes no attempt to charm the audience. Instead, he shows us a complex figure who writes like an angel, lives like a devil and who, for all his deathbed repentance, seems as doomed as Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

"Terry Johnson’s production and Tim Shortall’s design, with its gilded proscenium arch, astutely remind us of the constant tension between theatre and life.

"Cooper is totally commanding as Rochester. He lends the character a brooding inwardness so that, even in the midst of his boorish boozing and debauchery, you feel there is a speculative mind at work.

"The play may be too lewd for prudes, but it offers an invigorating, warts-and-all portrait of a self-destructive sceptic."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"[Cooper ]should be in his theatrical, testosterone-charged element here, showing off his peacock feathers to maximum advantage. And yet the actor, 38, sucks with too much restraint on this plum role.

"Director Terry Johnson makes the ribald most of a second-half scene in which a chorus of actresses brandish large dildos to accompany a rousing ditty from Rochester’s satirical closet-drama Sodom. But elsewhere there’s little more meat on display than at a vegetarian deli counter.

"Not a full-on flop all told but be warned, if you go seeking after the elixir of lusty excitement you may end up feeling you’ve but quaffed a cup of Earl Grey."

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail


"The second half of the Theatre Royal Haymarket's new show, The Libertine, opens with a group of comely wenches singing a 'dance of the dildoes'. Director Terry Johnson was wise not to include this in the first half, for it might have caused even more seats to empty at the interval than already happened.

"For the prologue, Rochester (Dominic Cooper) saunters front of stage and tells the audience members they will not like him. 'The gentlemen will be envious and the women will be repelled.' I liked this confrontational opening. Yet neither of those predictions quite comes true.

"Despite its flaws, the evening probes the aimlessness of amorality. It could do with toning down the ooh-la-la sexiness a few notches and giving quieter reflection to the sub-themes of Godlessness and the shallowness of sybarites who fight the passage of time."

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard


"Jasper Britton’s Charles is amusing, most memorable in a scene where he eagerly ruts with a hefty prostitute on a balcony. It’s a moment that effectively conveys the way his kingdom’s corruption stems from his bad example… So much for the received image of Charles as a naval mastermind and savvy promoter of science!

"Terry Johnson’s revival has energy and charm, with Tim Shortall’s design evoking the period’s extravagant fashions. But what’s missing is a sense of real danger. Rochester’s debauchery never exactly feels rampant, and the world he inhabits could seem more fascinatingly filthy.

"Even a song paying tribute to the power of dildos is baffling rather than truly naughty, and when the mood darkens the depths of Rochester’s often masked self-loathing aren’t fully explored."

Mark Shenton, The Stage


"In fact, this could be an old-fashioned West End sex comedy – and no doubt one of the reasons it has turned up there is that sex sells.

"Cooper is the star draw of Terry Johnson’s production, handsomely designed by Tim Shortall and lit with a chiaroscuro glow by Ben Ormerod.

"A generous 15-strong company around him also has strongly drawn performances from Mark Hadfield as playwright George Etherege, Jasper Britton as Charles II, Ophelia Lovibond as an actor, Lizzie Roper as the stage manager and Nina Toussaint-White as a favoured prostitute."

The Libertine runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 2 December.