Royal National Theatre (Lyttelton), London SE1
Opened 5 May, 1992

The Brothers Quay's great monochrome etching of a set (complete with 20-legged virginals) draws applause, but is soon revealed as a baroque folly which strands even the large Comédie performance style in a breathtakingly pretty canyon. Nick Dear's stocky adaptation at times sounds almost Hancockian ("Have you ever had a leg of pork wrapped round your ear?"), though Timothy Spall's Monsieur Jourdain is too unashamed a vulgarian to be convincing as the protagonist determined brashly to buy himself intellectual standing and gentility.

Director Richard Jones has cranked up every individual aspect of the production but made little effort to harmonise the energies unleashed in their respective fields, leaving us with an evening divided against itself. When, at the peak of ludicrousness, a mock-Turkish investiture sequence is percussively accompanied by disembodied hands springing up through traps in the stage, one suspects that the proverbial kitchen sink has been melted down to forge their finger-cymbals. The driving notions of grandeur and delight are to the fore throughout but, lacking any apparent scheme, the overall flavour is (in Lou Reed's words) like bacon and ice-cream.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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