Ian Kelly delivers a fine portrait of the famous British dandy in this play by Ron Hutchinson.
This time, however, Hutchinson has added a couple of twists. The legendary, half-mad dandy Brummell (Ian Kelly) talks for 90 minutes to Austin (Ryan Early), his valet -- not a real-life character -- with whom he's ensconced in a small room in a French house for the insane. (The set is simply yet effectively designed by Tom Rand.) Brummell also has imaginary conversations with a variety of English noblemen who were his friends and admirers before he brought about his own downfall by calling the Prince Regent, later King George IV, "fat" to his face. During these conversations, Austin often voices the other men.
The play is set towards the end of Brummell's life, as he spends his last unhappy days in Calais, France. We are greeted by Brummell, lounging in a bathtub and threatening to kill himself with a razor. But since Hutchinson is interested in some degree of historical accuracy, we know that the suicide attempt will come to naught; and since he is focusing on the life of the world's best-dressed man, we're certain that Brummel will be fully clothed in whatever finery he has left before the play is over. (We also know that he'll emerge from the tub au naturel, thanks to a "warning" of brief nudity posted at the theater's entrance.)
Hutchinson also takes something of a predictable tack by emphasizing Brummell's role as the Paris Hilton of his day, someone who was famous simply for being famous. It's true that the man's only real talent was his supreme sense of style -- knowing just how long a cuff, how short a sleeve, or how a tight a cravat should be -- yet it catapulted him into the highest ranks of society and had a lasting effect on men's fashion. But immortality is a hard thing to predict. Two decades after leaving England in disgrace, having gambled away his considerable fortune, Brummell still believes he might be welcomed back to England with open arms by King George, who is visting Calais.
That expectation appears to be shared by Austin, who detests the British monarchy but also can't wait to get back to England, where fortune may await. One can't blame him; he has served Brummell for a year without pay. During the course of the play, Austin's moods swing almost as violently as his master's, from good humor to contempt and even possibly to a bit of homosexual lust. Perhaps the valet has been driven slightly mad by the pair's forced closeness, or perhaps these changes in temperment are the only way he can get through the days; the reasons for his behavior remain unclear in the writing and in Early's entertaining if somewhat superficial performance under the otherwise smooth direction of Simon Green.