Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Peter Craze: Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness

By | Published on Thursday 9 February 2017

If you are a bit of a historian like me (it’s a very small bit, admittedly), you’ll no doubt have heard of Regency fashion icon Beau Brummell, but if you are not, and you haven’t, then seeing ‘Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness’, which opens at Jermyn Street this week, should be educational as well as entertaining.
The play, created by Emmy Award winning writer Ron Hutchinson back in 2001, has been updated for this revival. I spoke to director Peter Craze, to find out more.

CM: I know about Beau Brummell but I’m not sure everyone else will – can you explain who he was and why he’s a good subject for a theatrical piece?
PC: George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell was the first person to be famous just for being famous. He was the darling of the court of the reprobate Prince of Wales (later to become King George IV) and everyone followed his style of dress and manners. In fact, some people paid to watch him get dressed.

He was the original wit and dandy, and invented the modern men’s suit and tie. Savile Row, Bond Street and Jermyn Street tailors exist largely because of him. He makes a fascinating theatrical study as he lived through a historic time of revolution in art and politics and had a spectacular fall from grace, eventually descending into exile, penury and madness.

CM: At what time in his life is the play set and what story does it tell?
PC: In Ron Hutchinson’s superb play, ‘The Beau’ is seen near the end of his life in exile in France, having insulted the Prince Regent and run up huge gambling debts. For company he only has his manservant, Austin, who is forced to introduce (and sometimes impersonate) the imaginary friends that Brummell believes still come to see him. The Beau revels in past glories when he dominated the worlds of fashion, wit and dress.

The action takes place on the very day that George IV is coming to Calais and Brummell is convinced that his old friend and patron will visit and restore him to his position in society…

CM: Is he a sympathetic character?
PC: Many people find Beau Brummell a privileged, indulgent wastrel, which indeed he was, but as a destroyed human soul he is immensely sympathetic. His fall was as dramatic as Oscar Wilde’s some 70 years later.

CM: How would you describe the humour of the piece?
PC: It is not an outright comedy but a dark comedy between two contrasted but witty characters. There are some very funny lines but ultimately the play is a tragicomedy. It combines the regency farce of Blackadder III with the grandeur of King Lear.

CM: It’s been quite a while since this play was last staged, and I understand that writer Ron Hutchinson has updated the script. What sort of changes has he made?
PC: Ron has developed the theme exploring the reverence with which we now treat celebrities and the vacuous life styles of these people who actually don’t do anything with their existence except ‘be famous’. Brummell was the first and greatest celebrity and he feels fascinatingly modern.

CM: What made you want to revive the play and why now?
PC: We re-staged it last year for a brief tour and the enthusiasm of audiences revived our passion for the play. It was felt that the original production did not do justice to the writing and Ron got very excited and wanted to develop certain aspects. I think the audience for this production will share our excitement.

CM: Jermyn Street is a very apt location for putting on a play about Beau Brummell, isn’t it? Was that a factor in your desire to stage it here?
PC: Yes, Brummell grew up on Jermyn Street and his patronage of tailors there (and on Savile Row) is a big reason why those streets have a worldwide reputation for gentleman’s clothes. There is even a statue of Brummell by the Piccadilly Arcade, a hundred yards from Jermyn Street Theatre so it’s the perfect venue for it.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast of the show?
PC: The play is a two-hander and is played quite brilliantly by Sean Brosnan and Richard Latham. These two older actors bring their wealth of experience and talent to their performances. The show has been described as ‘’Waiting for Godot’ for the fashion conscious’.

CM: What’s next for the production? Is it likely to tour?
PC: There are several options in the air, but at present we are just focusing on the first night on Monday 13th February.

‘Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness’ is on at at Jermyn Street Theatre from 13 Feb – 11 Mar. See this page here for details.


Photo: Emily Hyland

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