Dominic Cooper takes on the role of the libidinous and John Wilmot, playwright and poet, the Second Earl of Rochester in The Libertine, currently showing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. This enticing narrative of a hedonist, living life recklessly to the full in the spirit of the Restoration era – offers a bawdy evening of fun and laughter.
Cooper commands the stage from the start exclaiming bluntly in his opening monologue to the audience, ‘You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as we go on.’ Indeed, alongside his outlandish and rakish poetry, the Earl of Rochester was renowned for his sharp wit and his excessive debauchery he even abducted his future wife – he died aged 33 from syphilis.
Throughout the play, I both pitied and admired both his unfortunate wife and mistress played by Ophelia Lovibond and Alice Bailey Johnson – they continuously cried and cursed at Wilmot for his transgressions,- and yet found myself remaining utterly transfixed by Cooper’s cleverly crafted portrayal of the complex character. He delivers a seductive and unpredictable performance (I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end) but also gives the audience permission to peer into his melancholic existence, a life of idleness and loneliness. Towards the end of the play, Wilmot who is near death, lies flat on the stage throbbing and glugs from a vial of red wine before his wife proceeds to grab it from his reach and poor it all over him, coating him in his filth and shame.
The Libertine may have been a licentious and lewd with absolutely no morals whatsoever, but he was a force to be reckoned with, a man of his era who satirised Charles II’s court.
Warning – This play is not for the faint-hearted or prudish.
Catch The Libertine on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket now, ends 3rd December 2016.
Box office: 020-7930 8800.