“Discuss the role of the Rake in Restoration comedy” – This was a university assignment I had to write last year. After studying the drama produced during this period, I wrote about William Wycherley’s The Country Wife, Etherege’s The Man of Mode, and Molière’s Misanthrope. Despite Restoration comedies celebrating sexual liberty, the plays written by women have been overlooked in favour of their male contemporaries.
Even having researched this period, the work of Mary Pix was completely unknown to me. If I had discovered her last year, I certainly would have written about her comedy, The Beau Defeated. It is a much funnier play than those of her male counterparts and it contains the best Rake character I have seen on stage… Sir John Roverhead.
After their superb production of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, Manchester School of Theatre have, once again, revived a relatively unknown, highly underrated play, that is barely performed today. Whoever decided what texts will be performed in their current season deserves enormous praise for doing so. Their programme brilliantly advocates challenging, neglected works, rather than playing it safe by thinking about ‘bums on seats’ and staging the popular plays of Shakespeare, Pinter or Coward, which are performed all the time.
Mary Pix’s The Beau Defeated portrays the lives of two wealthy widows as they search for respectable, handsome beaus.
Aptly named, whimsical, and gossiping, Mrs Rich is the widow of a rich banker. She dreams of becoming “a woman of quality” and joining high society, firmly believing that she will achieve this by marrying a rich lord. Bella McKenty is magnificent in this role, brilliantly falling prey to comical, eccentric mood changes. McKenty deftly shifts from excitable giddiness to hysterical anger and melodramatic despair. Her character is hugely entertaining, and an absolute delight to watch.
Mrs Rich falls in love with the notoriously charming libertine, Sir John Roverhead. Kieron Michael delivers a show-stealing performance, exquisitely rendering his character’s rakish nature. Sir John is “all wig, no brains” and Michael perfectly captures this. His extravagant mannerisms are hilarious, particularly his flamboyant bow, which amusingly smacks someone in the face.
The exchanges between Michael and McKenty are the best scenes in the play. They have a fantastic chemistry together, as they almost try to outmatch each other’s eccentricity. The romance between their characters is incredibly amusing.
Running parallel to Mrs Rich’s romance is that of Lady Landsworth, who is widowed at a young age, after being condemned to matrimony without her consent. Now financially independent, she wishes to find a beau, disguising herself as a prostitute to achieve this. Caitlin Kaur impeccably depicts her character’s graceful elegance, as well as her seductive sensuality. She also renders an authentic emotional attachment to her lover, Clerimont (Jay Olpin), that is endearing.
As you would expect from actors completing the final year of their degree, every member of this cast is fantastic. With many of them having appeared in The Duchess of Malfi, the students of Manchester School of Theatre have shown their dexterity as performers. They are equally capable at comedy as they are with tragedy.
I want to specifically acknowledge Andrew Dawson, who genuinely cracked me up as Elder Clerimont. Accompanied by Garion Frith, who displays superb puppetry skills, Dawson is outrageously funny, hilariously interacting with his two ‘dogs’. He also brilliantly uses his riding crop to maximise the comedic value of his character. Considering that he was murderously sinister and chillingly evil as the Cardinal in The Duchess of Malfi, Dawson is a highly accomplished, multi-talented young actor who shows great promise.
Restoration comedies feature a host of different characters, whose stories intertwine, as wires become crossed. This can naturally become quite confusing for audiences, although events always make sense in the end. The Beau Defeated is no different. However, much of the confusion is averted in this production by the inspired decision to use an easel to display the location of each scene. With a relatively minimalist set, this inventive concept provides clarity of setting, in addition to indicating which character resides there.
Frankie Gerrard‘s fabulous design merges the Georgian period with contemporary influences. Georgian gowns and wigs are worn alongside military jackets and make-up inspired by Adam Ant. The stunning costumes bestow the production with a lavish, steampunk-esque quality that is as quirky as the play itself.
This is also reflected in Richard Walker‘s fantastic sound design that employs an 80s soundtrack to remarkable effect. It perfectly expresses the bohemian lifestyle of Pix’s characters, as well as providing the audience with a familiar point of reference. Each act ends triumphantly with exquisitely choreographed dances featuring the full company. Ultravox’s Vienna becomes an amusing recurring motif for Clerimont, who spends the majority of the play moping around his apartment. There is also a hysterically funny rendition of Spandau Ballet’s Gold performed by Kieron Michael‘s Sir John and his servant, Chris (Tom Garside).
The Beau Defeated is sheer, unbridled joy. Once again, Manchester School of Theatre have produced another fantastic production that showcases the incredible talent of their actors and creative team.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Manchester School of Theatre will be returning to HOME later this month with their next play, Coram Boy, adapted from Jamila Gavin’s excellent novel.