The Man of Mode is perhaps not the most well-known play that Oxford has ever seen, but George Etherege’s Restoration comedy is a pleasing two and a half hours of theatre nonetheless, particularly so in the setting of Univ’s Master’s Garden, where a lovely little marquee had been set up to keep the chill from getting to the audience members too much. Even more charming is the change of era from the 17th century to the 1920s, and the costume department (if there is such a thing for a garden play) must be commended on a delightful array of outfits which fit the bill perfectly.
This is not to say that the production is entirely faultless, however. A bit of jitteriness with the script, and a tendency to overact and read the lines without much mind towards meaning does both cloud comprehension and make attention waver. Some of the “bit parts” are a touch weak, and the transitions between scenes, despite the good use which was made of the many entrances to the marquee, could be a bit clunky.
On a brighter note, the star of the show was without doubt Matthew Robson, playing the dandy Sir Fopling Flutter. His prancing movements and general cavorting (including a spritely jig and a tremendous burst of ham-singing) were a joy, and the scenes were invigorated by his presence. Another brilliant comic turn came in the form of Old Bellair, played by Joseph Prentice, whose obsession with his son’s love interest and sudden attempts to hide it were captured superbly.
The Man of Mode did have a capable and rather large cast, headed by the reprobate ladies’ man Dorimant (Will Yeldham), but another performance which stood out from the rest was Imogen Hamilton-Jones as Harriet Woodville, the young lady who becomes the match for Yeldham’s character in the final scene. Her accent, demeanour and posture were all entirely convincing, and she was perhaps the easiest member of the cast to place in a 1920s setting in terms of engaging with the sense of her lines and pairing them with a well thought out portrayal of character.
All in all, the performance was not without its lukewarm lows, but as the flappers settled after a well-executed and suitably cheering Charleston to close the show, it was with a warm heart, and not just a warm pair of feet, with which the audience left the cosy marquee. It was a successfully amusing evening’s entertainment, and in its role as a light-hearted garden play, The Man of Mode did its job well.