A Mad World, My Masters

A Mad World, My Masters (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

Way back in the swinging Sixties I was taken to the cinema to see a very funny film called It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I remember laughing hysterically and having to be taken out several times to eat vanilla ice cream, as that was all you could get in those days rather than the odd flavours they try to sell you now, but it brings back happy memories.

That film was based on Thomas Middleton’s 17th Century comedy A Mad World, My Masters, which is now on tour but you wouldn’t really know it because the plot is completely different and there are characters with odd names in it – unlike the film, unless you happen to think the name Culpeper (the role played by Spencer Tracy, the well-known film star) is funny, which I didn’t.

I have always thought of myself as very open-minded when it comes to plays, but even I was shocked by the double entendres and pure filth in this Royal Shakespeare Company production  (they usually do Shakespeare plays, but this isn’t by Shakespeare) being toured by the English Touring Theatre.

It was so naughty I choked on my packet of Revels several times. I don’t usually choke on Revels and I prefer the Maltesers and orange filled ones, so it must have been all the naughty goings-on on stage that affected me so badly. Indeed there were times I didn’t know where to look!

It’s a really long play and I was worried I might miss my last bus home but fortunately there had been a police incident of some kind in Brighton town centre so all the buses had been delayed, meaning I was able to catch mine. I think there was some kind of pop group playing at the Brighton Centre or the Dome that evening so it was probably some trouble started by their fans.

There are several plots running alongside each other in this play, so it gets a bit confusing, especially if you have been distracted by an article about Benedict Cumberbatch in your copy of Woman’s Weekly. I just had to finish it because it there was something really interesting in it about his great grandfather, who was Queen Victoria’s consul general in Turkey and Lebanon.

The play contains several characters who have “Dick” in their name – I thought Joe Bannister (who was in TV’s Endeavour, but not as Morse) was really good as the young man Dick Follywit trying to con his uncle into giving him some money, which he wanted to waste on wine, women and song, so he has obviously never read the Bible story of the prodigal son, which would probably have set him on the right path.  Ben Deery (who wore glasses and has been in a couple of lunchtime TV dramas) was also excellent as Mr Littledick (known in the original play as Shortrod, which I suppose was the crude equivalent of the time) and I liked his codpiece in the last scene.

Ian Redford was good as Sir Bounteous Peersucker (in the original he was called Bounteous Progress, which I suppose was a reference to Pilgrim’s Progress, so people probably wouldn’t understand it nowadays). He was once in an episode of The Professionals on TV, which I rather enjoyed.

Also noteworthy were Dennis Herdman as Penitent Brothel, which is an odd name and I didn’t understand it, and Sarah Kidman as Truly Kidman, which I took to be a reference to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because there was a character in that called Truly Scrumptious who fell in love with Dick van Dyke (which would have been quite a good character name for someone in this play had Thomas Middleton or Sean Foley the play’s editor and director thought of it).

There was plenty of comic stuff in the play more reminiscent of an X-rated Carry On film such as when a statue’s man bits were used to open a wall safe. A similar thing once happened to my uncle Oswald but he never really recovered. A lot of people opened their legs which I imagine was supposed to be bawdy but didn’t interest me and I’d have preferred to see the band playing the theme from Z Cars.  

A Mad World, My Masters is really rude, and not the sort of thing you would want to take your maiden aunt to – better leave her at home to watch Bargain Hunt.