Mike Bartlett has three plays running simultaneously in London: tail at the Ambassadors Theater, The 47th at the Old Vic and scandal town at Lyric, Hammersmith. It is a remarkable achievement and a record only beaten by Somerset Maugham, who ran four plays simultaneously in the West End in 1908.

Just like Bartlett King Charles III was pastiche Shakespeare, like that scandal town is pastiche restoration comedy.

When Oliver Cromwell ruled Britain the Puritans had closed all the theaters in 1642 and they only reopened when King Charles II returned from Paris to retake the crown in 1660.

We all suffered terribly when Covid closed cinemas and are still suffering from cancellations. But how would we, theatergoers, have survived in the 17th century when the theaters were closed for eighteen, even eighteen years???

Restoration comedies satirized the vices and follies of the time. They were popular for about forty years, until the public tired of immorality, debauchery, lewdness and blasphemy and preferred something more sentimental.

The plays were not seen again for two centuries, not until Nigel Playfair at the Lyric, Hammersmith, popularized them again in the 1920s.

Bartlett’s impersonation is a poor impersonation, and the performance, directed by Rachel O’Riordan, lacks the wit, style, and sophistication that comedy of manners demands. The bizarre and ugly cartoon costumes don’t help either. The satire on 21st century social media, hypocrisy and corruption is weak.

Rachel Stirling and Richard Goulding are the most experienced actors and their scenes are the best. Stirling plays a social climber who discovers she’s slept with the wrong person. Goulding plays a key Tory government minister who briefly converts to socialism and homosexuality. Thomas Josling is also amusing as a naive young man who is happy about the loss of his virginity

It would be great to see a true restoration comedy from Etherege, Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar and Vanbrugh, once again performed in style. There was a time when you could see the plays performed by John Gielgud, Edith Evans, Margaret Rutherford, John Clements, Kay Hammond, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Donald Sinden etc etc.

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By Maelyn

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