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As Sir Fopling Flutter, the title role of George Etherege’s The Man of Mode (1676), Rory Kinnear gives a star performance in a star role. Etherege keeps us waiting a full hour before he makes his entrance, and keeps the other actors working hard with a great deal of narrative complication and entertaining but dense social satire; then on comes Kinnear/Flutter and the audience is gurgling contentedly in the palm of his hand at every least thing he does. In an altogether surprising modern-dress production of this Restoration comedy, Kinnear’s performance is the most surprising of all.
He is a fop such as we have never seen before – driven (from his platinum-blond quiff right down to his silver-tipped trainers), apparently unaware of his own innumerable affectations, unconsciously sweet and wonderfully vulnerable, with a teddy-bear face. Part of the fun is the modernity of his modishness: his cape, his hood, his “wu-wu” and “ciao”, his tassels. But none of this would be seriously enchanting were it not for the intense and energetic seriousness with which he pursues his foppishness: he is the shallowest person on the stage and yet he is the largest, the most spellbinding and by far the funniest.
The central role, every bit as modish in this way-of-the-world tale, is really Dorimant, the all-seducing, hypocritical, ruthless Don Juan of this milieu whom Tom Hardy plays with fabulous narcissism, glorying in his tattooed naked torso or his tailored shirts and suits. Nicholas Hytner, directing, has long been a leading Utopian in his polyethnic casting: here he subtly uses Asian actors for two particular households, most delectably with Indira Joshi’s sari-clad protective Indian mum Lady Woodvill.
But the modernity of The Man of Mode may impress us more, not less, when performed in period dress, and I am sure that the updating changes of verbal detail make us awkward about how much of this comedy is actually by Etherege. As designed by Vicki Mortimer, everybody looks more or less fashionable but only Dorimant looks sexy. Kinnear’s zany fantastico and Hardy’s glowing Lothario sweep all before them, and rank at once among the glories of London today.
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