The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys opened this week at the Theatre Royal in Bath before it transfers to the West End in a couple of weeks. It is based on true events in the life of John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, who very much enjoyed the decadence of the period after King Charles II’s return to the throne. He drank, whored, wrote obscene poems and enjoyed an outrageous life before dying at 33 years old.
Due to the nature of Rochester’s life, there are several funny lines and moments in the play, and the cast were very good at drawing out these moments. The set was fairly simple with a raised plinth running across the stage, and a portrait at the rear of the stage which changed to reflect the setting of the scenes. The performances were strong by all, and Dominic Cooper was excellent as the caddish Rochester.
As for the play itself, I wasn’t so sure. There is a lot of humour, but I felt some scenes did drag slightly, and it seemed out of character for Rochester to fall in love (with Elizabeth Barry, an actress played by Ophelia Lovibond, with whom he did have a child). The slowness could be as it’s very early on the run of the production (I saw the fifth performance), or it could just be the play itself. However, I enjoyed learning about this character from history and it was an enjoyable evening.