The man of mode seems like a reflection of modern life – the hook-ups, break-ups and hypocrisy. But with its large – than – life characters it adds an element of something real life may not have – humour. The play was originally written by George Etherege in 1676, a restoration comedy. In this Oxford version though, they’ve got rid of the ridiculous costumes and adapted it to suit a contemporary audience’s tastes. The location is perfect – a tiny tent in the garden of University College with snacks being sold and blankets you can borrow. It makes you feel like you’re a member of the genteel, gathering to watch the screening of the first moving picture- how quaint.
The play follows the misadventures of arrogant, young Dorimant as he tries to woo Harriett Woodville while he is involved with two other women, Mrs Loveit and Bellinda, with whom he tries to engage and disengage, simultaneously woo and shame. He is aided by his friend Medley, a gossip-monger who is perpetually amused by his state of affairs. The subplots also include Bellair, Dorimant’s friend who isn’t allowed to marry the woman he loves, Bellair’s lecherous father who is on his own trip and the flamboyant Mr Fopling Flutter, a self-proclaimed charmer with a bizarre fashion sense.
What is charming about the play is that it is clearly an ensemble. This allows the audience to laugh at the characters’ quirks and their hypocritical society while never really sympathising with them, thus keeping up the light tone of the play. The first half of the play cleverly builds up characters in pairs of friends or foils. Dorminant (Will Yelham) and Medley (Andrew Dickinson) have great chemistry as two friends who cherish each other’s arrogance.
Will Yelham understands the nuances of Dorimant, who is absolutely shameless about his sexual conquests but is full of confusion as he tries to handle women and the thought of *gasp* feelings. Though we probably know people like him (if we aren’t like him ourselves) it’s easy to laugh at and with him and not begrudge him his insufferable Casanova. Andrew Dickinson delivers his character a sort of lively version of Jeeves.
Bellair (Jimmy McConville) and Harriet (Imogen Hamilton) have a hilarious scene in which they expose the pretentiousness of flirting. Mr Fopling Flutter (Matthew Robson) adds to this chaos with his faux French and his effeminate mannerisms that put both Dorimant and Medley comically on the edge. Watch out for his goofy interactions with his harassed Page!
The women characters are slightly dismaying. The actresses have tried to remain true to their characters, but the characters themselves are too timid and predictable. The gossip they seek is from men and the revenge they seek is through men. While Mrs Loveit (Poppy Clifford) sings the morose tunes of betrayal and Emilia (Josephine Glover) remains sweet but neutral, Bellinda (Caitlin Chalmers) seems like the only woman character that actually experiences some contradictions through the play. Harriet Woodville is written to be feisty and rebellious, she is the motivation behind Dorimant’s schemes, but alas we don’t see enough of her. “Women think too well of men they know and ill of men they don’t,” Medley says during the play. But the problem is that these women don’t think. They passively accept “fate”.
After the interval the play begins to lose its steam. Suddenly, the story has much to resolve, which is does too quickly and neatly in the climax without any believable resolution. The characters, who were so perfectly built up in the first half, now act against their personality with no apparent motivation. This may be the fault of the original play because after all, it is a satire which doesn’t want you to step too close to the characters but instead sit back and enjoy their antics.
The play is still, without no doubt, enjoyable. While the story might be flawed, the dialogues are crisp and the banter is memorable. The background score puts you in a light-hearted, festive mood and there is an amusing finishing touch to play. Watch it for the actors- they prop up the script and are easy on the eyes too.