Written by Ron Hutchinson back in 2001, Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness is a black comedy about the downfall of George Bryan Brummell, known as The Beau. This week the play returns to London for the first time in 15 years, opening tomorrow at Jermyn Street Theatre, just a couple of blocks away from Brummell’s commemorative statue.
So who was Beau Brummell? “The play is a fascinating and amusing insight into the world of ‘celebrities’, featuring the original dandy, wit and revolutionary Beau Brummell,” explains Sean Brosnan, who plays him. “Brummell was in many ways a self made man. He seized opportunities where he could and without concern for the consequences. In fact the more he could pique someone with a barbed comment, the happier he was.
“He bucked the trend in fashion and his influence reigns today in the tailored suit. Without him we may all be flouncing around in overly flamboyant colours and fabrics. Imagine a world of Grayson Perry. Today’s equivalent I would say is a cross between David Beckham for style, Kim Kardashian for fame for fame’s sake, and Stephen Fry for biting wit. Imagine that if you will!”
Set in the winter of 1819, the play finds Brummell living in exile in a madhouse in Calais. He’s convinced his old friend King George IV will come and see him on his visit to Calais – but his valet has other plans. “Beau Brummell has so many facets to his character; joy at his past glory, despair at his current situation and a fascinating, complex relationship with his valet, played with great skill and panache by Richard Latham,” says Sean. “Brummell was unique and playing him at this stage of his life, when he is facing desperate reality but also believing his former glory will be restored, is a challenge and a delight.”
Jermyn Street Theatre, in the fashionable St James’s district, is an appropriate home for the production: “Jermyn Street was at the heart of Brummell’s world. He lived close by and bought his wine at Berry Brothers in St. James Street. With his statue at the end of Piccadilly Arcade he must surely be looking down on us with pride. He has not been forgotten. Playing him here is very special.”
Although the play’s set nearly 200 years ago, the story of Beau Brummell remains hugely relevant in today’s celebrity-obsessed world. “Brummell was the most famous man of his day and yet is now largely forgotten. Like Oscar Wilde, he had a spectacular fall from grace,” says Sean. “Even today, one mistake in the public eye, be it ever so small, can bring the media’s wrath and vilification. If you’re famous, watch out. They’re out to get you!”
Sean hopes the play will help bring Brummell’s story to audiences who may never have heard of him. “It’s a play that manages to balance the regency farce of Blackadder III with the grandeur of King Lear and has been called ‘Waiting for Godot for the fashion conscious!’ If our audiences leave feeling they understand a little more about the madness and brilliance of Beau and have had a good chuckle along the way, then I will be delighted.”
Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness is at Jermyn Street Theatre from 13th February to 11th March.