I had some trouble getting to see 'The Libertine' .
I'd booked a ticket, then had to rearrange due to a work commitment, they sent me a ticket for the wrong night.. and then I was busy recovering from anaphylactic shock and completely forgot to go on the night I did have a ticket for!
Fortunately for me, however, the play is in Bath for nearly 3 weeks, so there was time for me get to see it.
Remember I mentioned that 'The Rover' might have been based on either Henry or John Wilmot (or both of them)?
The Libertine is all about John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester poet, courtier, soldier, critic, libertine and amoral man about town.
Wilmot was the son of Henry Wilmot, who was created Earl of Rochester by Charles II in gratitude for his support during the English Civil War and the Interregnum. He inherited his father's title at the age of 11, and joined Charles' court at the age of 17. He wooed his wife by abducting her (for which he spent 3 weeks in the Tower of London, being released only after grovelling to the King) and served (apparently with great courage) in the 2nd Dutch War, while still in his teens.
However, this play deals with his later life.
It opens (after orange sellers come through the auditorium as the audience take their sets) with Wilmot (Dominic Cooper) addressing the audience, telling us not to like him, that he is generally at his worst when he appears in a sympathetic light, and goes on to comment that he is permanently 'up for it' with women, and generally also with men...
Given Dominic Cooper's looks, this was not entirely off-putting...
(Photo from Bath Theatre Royal - (C) Alastair Muir)
His Lordship came over as rude, crude, selfish, but cleverer than several sack-fulls of monkeys, and tragic in his self-destructive habits.
We watched as he wenched and drank his way across 17th C London, and met his match in actress Elizabeth Barry (Ophelia Lovibond), determined to succeed as a serious actress and not , despite his support, to do so dependent on Rochester. I believe this may be Ophelia Lovibond's stage debut - if so, it's an excellent one. She, and Nina Toussaint White ( who plays Rochester's favourite prostitute) both give excellent performances each in their own way standing up to Rochester, and each showing sings of understanding him only too well!
(Jasper Britton as Charles II
Photo from Bath Theatre Royal - (C) Alastair Muir)
Jasper Britton's Charles II was acerbic and knowing, prepared to turn a blind eye to Rochester's shenanigans only so far (Rochester's attempt to stage a satirical play, including live sex on stage, jokes about the Queen's sex life and a folk dance with dildos are scuppered by the King, who was hoping for a work of literature which would endure and cement his position as patron of the arts...
(the live sex portion isn't shown on stage. The folk dancing with dildos is. In case you were wondering)
It's a very entertaining romp, with a strong cast. Not, however, for those of a Puritan or prudish temperament!
The run at Bath has finished but the play is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket for 10 weeks. Well worth seeing!