REVIEW: It’s a mad, bad masterclass

Sponger, Dick Follywit and Oboe, played by Micheal Moreland, Joe Bannister and Lee Mengo in A Mad World My Masters
Sponger, Dick Follywit and Oboe, played by Micheal Moreland, Joe Bannister and Lee Mengo in A Mad World My Masters
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A Mad World My Masters, Grand Theatre, Blackpool.

Take the sauciest seaside postcard you can imagine and blend it with 17th Century language, as well as the glamour of the 1950s underworld, and that gives you a vague idea of what to expect from A Mad World My Masters.

In a nod to the huge success of the National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors, the Royal Shakespeare Company has given a similar treatment to Middleton’s classic Jacobean text, editing in places and updating in others, while shifting the action into 1950s Soho, complete with live jazz.

Brazen bachelor Dick Follywit is out to gain his uncle Sir Bounteous Peersucker’s wealth, by means of scams and trickery.

At the same time, ‘honourable’ prostitute Truly Kidman is aiding the repressed wife Mrs Littledick to deceive her jealous husband.

What ensues is a riotous romp of cross-dressing, crass-talking hilarity.

The 2013 Stratford RSC hit, directed by Sean Foley, is slick and the dialogue so fast-paced that the sur-title system in place on Thursday was not just helpful to the hard of hearing, but those of us with the keenest ears too - serving to reinforce some of the shock factor and allowing you to double check the double entendres.

While the play opened and music was introduced in an underground jazz club, the action swiftly moved on and never returned to the scene, leaving the addition of music feeling a little forced in places.

But that is easily forgiven courtesy of killer vocal skills by Linda John-Pierre and the on-stage band, who I’d have happily listened to all night.

The characters within the Mad World that’s created in this RSC production, brought to the Grand by English Touring Theatre, are all perfectly drawn by the ensemble cast, each one living up to the name bestowed upon them.

Follywit is superbly played with huge energy and suitably dashing dare by Joe Bannister - and accompanied by the brilliantly physical comic pairing of Oboe and Sponger (Lee Mengo and Michael Moreland), and Ian Redford is hilarious as Peersucker.

Highlights include the bedroom scene, where Sarah Ridgeman’s timing as Truly was a dream, the apparition of the she-devil to Penitent Brothel, and the closing party scene where the pace was ramped up even more.

It’s lewd, crude, bawdy and above all a huge amount of fun, as the audience are led a merry dance of trickery, lust and money through the back streets of Soho.

A three-hour masterclass in the best possible over acting... God’s foot, it’s good.

Until tomorrow. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.