Independent Melbourne theatre company, RL Productions, has set themselves a mammoth task and that is to bring a seldom seen Restoration comedy back onto the stage. The Man of Mode was written in 1676 and it is with the clever pen of translator Janet Dimelow that modern audiences are offered the opportunity to see this re-imagined work by George Etherege.
The Man of Mode was written 340 years ago and the English vernacular has changed quite profoundly since,” says Dimelow addressing the question of re-imagining the work. “Moliere, whose ever popular work is from around the same time but gets translated into modern English, is therefore much more accessible and gets all the attention. I thought it only fair that the early English Restoration comedies should have the same chance to bring the audience closer to the meaning and intention of the playwright. It was originally an experiment but then I was inspired to continue as the work, pared back, let the play and characters shine as they would have in 1675.”
Dimelow kept everything she could of the original but had to rework some of the jokes. Just as importantly she wanted actors to concentrate on bringing the characters to life rather than struggle to make the text comprehensible. And, Etherege’s original simply had too many characters for a modern production.
Dimelow’s attraction to the work was, certainly in part, Etherege’s ability to capture humanity in its recognized form – something over exaggeration – as well as his ability to create characters with human frailty, flaws and desires. As she worked on the play Dimelow was more and more taken by the characters and their motives. “… and struck by how like us they are – more real and enduring than characters from some later eras, free from ideas no longer in fashion. Maybe it is their irreverence, their love of freedom, their sense of joy or their mischief that makes them so interesting, often reminding me of people I knew or would love to know?”
The Man of Mode is essentially a love triangle and, like works of Oscar Wilde, has been described as a comedy of manners. Dimelow has found Etherege’s energy and his portrait of protagonist John Wilmot, the template for our hero Dorimant, fascinating. “Wilmot is surely a great, although flawed man, of his time and a joy to discover,” she says. Her wish was to have been able to visit with these people but, as this is beyond the realm of possibility, she has read everything she could find about the vibrant Age of Scandal.
Dimelow acknowledges that she encountered some challenges while writing the contemporary transformation. “The greatest challenge was going with the original story,” she says. “John Wilmot was both fascinating and tragic. Etherege finished his play on a pretty rosy note which didn’t in my opinion represent the whole of Wilmot’s short life considering his final years. Now I had a dilemma – I could continue the myth that everything worked out to everyone’s satisfaction or tell the truth…”
Over 300 years old, The Man of Mode is a play full of life and wit, a dark comedy about flawed and therefore interesting people. “The good people in the play are peripheral because they are inherently uninteresting – dama is about conflict,” says Dimelow. ” At the centre of this play is a philandering, worryingly attractive man who is addicted to seduction when he meets the love of his life. We are consequently riveted – what will happen to him?! Dorimant, one of the great anti heroes of English literature, is eager to step out of the 17th Century and take his place amongst the most fascinating literary characters of the modern age.”
May 18 – 28