×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Relapse

It's all-stops-out over at the Royal National Theater, where Trevor Nunn's production of "The Relapse" (staged with assistance from Stephen Rayne) is utilizing every ounce -- and probably many a penny -- of the resources that a major subsidized theater uniquely has at its disposal.

With:
Ned Loveless - James Purefoy Amanda - Imogen Stubbs Lord Foppington - Alex Jennings Tom Fashion - Raymond Coulthard Berinthia - Claire Price Worthy - Adrian Lukis Sir Tunbelly Clumsey - Brian Blessed Hoyden - Maxine Peake Coupler - Edward Petherbridge Lory - James Hayes Nurse - Janine Duvitski

It’s all-stops-out over at the Royal National Theater, where Trevor Nunn’s production of “The Relapse” (staged with assistance from Stephen Rayne) is utilizing every ounce — and probably many a penny — of the resources that a major subsidized theater uniquely has at its disposal. Is the physical lushness and elegance worth it? Unforgettably, as long as Alex Jennings is seizing center-stage, playing a Lord Foppington so full of tomfoolery that he suggests a periwigged Elton John gone gloriously over the top, and beyond. When Jennings is absent from proceedings, “The Relapse” tends to lag, dragged down by a listless pair of romantic leads and a ludicrously barnstorming appeal to the audience from a burly Brian Blessed. Still, put those lapses aside, feast on the decor and let a sashaying Jennings do the rest: Extravagance has rarely been so exquisite.

It’s a shame that Lord Foppington is a subsidiary character, since he’s far more entertaining than virtually anything else on designer Sue Blane’s richly appointed stage. The scenic conceit — Sir John Vanbrugh’s 1696 satire is itself taking place inside a theater — is easy on the eye (those Boucher-like backdrops!) but not always helpful to the actors. There can be something decidedly disconcerting about an onstage audience chortling merrily away at events when the actual theatergoer is patiently marking time.

Vanbrugh’s play centers around Ned Loveless (James Purefoy), an erstwhile rake who has abandoned “that uneasy theater of noise” — the stage metaphor again — that is London for a quiet country life with wife Amanda (Imogen Stubbs). Drawn to the city for the season, Loveless must confront temptation: Will he fall back into his libido-led follies of old or remain steadfast to a spouse whose sprightly cousin Berinthia (Claire Price), a young widow, is busy hatching her own amorous schemes? (The narrative is a send-up of “Love’s Last Shift,” a contemporary comedy from Colley Cibber featuring a repentance to which Vanbrugh felt he could not relate.)

True to the Restoration ethos, Vanbrugh holds out little hope for marital constancy, especially in the presence of a local gentleman, Worthy (Adrian Lukis), who — naturally — could not be more ironically named. Feminine guile is one obstacle in “The Relapse” but so is male weakness, which makes for a mating dance far more delicate than the fencing matches that spill animatedly across the stage. (The fight director is the invaluable Malcolm Ranson.)

For a play fueled by erotic deception, Purefoy and Stubbs could jointly up the sexual ante, with gifted newcomer Price left to bubble away delightfully in a near-vacuum. (Her opening soliloquy gets the play off to a fizzy start.) The ancillary plot, meanwhile, is laboriously driven by “Cats” alumnus Blessed, his blustery Sir Tunbelly Clumsey (!) suggesting a Brueghel painting come to life if not — par for the course with this actor — to intelligibility.

And yet, all cavils are swept away given the manicured swell that Jennings is able to cut, Lord Foppington’s daily ablutions a lengthy levee that would make France’s own Sun King smile. (It’s hard to believe that on other nights in the Olivier, the same actor can be found mining rigorous depths of anger and regret as Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale.”) “Nice cuffs,” he pauses to remark to Loveless, their rapiers poised. And then it’s back to combat for a figure of aggrieved fastidiousness entrusted to a player who can turn every lowered eyebrow into high comic art.

The Relapse

Royal National Theater/Olivier, London; 1,087 seats; £33 ($46) top

Production: A Royal National Theater presentation of the play by John Vanbrugh in two acts. Directed by Trevor Nunn, with Stephen Rayne.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Sue Blane; lighting, Paul Pyant; music, Steven Edis; sound, Colin Pink; choreography, David Bolger; fight director, Malcolm Ranson. Opened, reviewed July 20, 2001. Running time: 3 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Ned Loveless - James Purefoy Amanda - Imogen Stubbs Lord Foppington - Alex Jennings Tom Fashion - Raymond Coulthard Berinthia - Claire Price Worthy - Adrian Lukis Sir Tunbelly Clumsey - Brian Blessed Hoyden - Maxine Peake Coupler - Edward Petherbridge Lory - James Hayes Nurse - Janine DuvitskiWith: Bill Moody, Elaine Claxton, Paul Benzing, Nick Sampson, John Burgess, Mark Carey, Ian McLarnon, Elizabeth Conboy, Katie Wimpenny, Andrea Mason, Paul Bradley, Nicholas Prideaux, Peter Eastland, Daniel Roberts.

More Legit

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews Concert Review: [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content