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The Libertine

First Published 28 September 2016, Last Updated 4 October 2016

What’s it all about?

Dominic Cooper plays John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, who is a man determined not to be liked – and he is direct in telling us such. Opening the play by means of a personal introduction – with none of the pleasantries – it soon becomes clear that his is a character driven by hedonistic yearnings and drink-induced apathy for the society around him, ensuring his life lies always on the wrong side of excess.

His brilliant remarks, witty writing and undeniable charm earn the Earl the admiration of his fellow 17th century London writers and fellows, but soon stray into territory which brings him into conflict with the monarchy itself, who resolve to use his talent to their advantage. And that’s before he makes a wager to transform the fortunes of aspiring actress Elizabeth Barry, whose artistic pull threatens to challenge all he knows.

Darkly comic, highly irreverent and frequently bawdy, Olivier Award winner Terry Johnson revives Stephen Jeffrey’s drama with a playful, but powerfully satirical, glimpse into the hypocracy of life in an age of excess.  

Who’s in it?

Dominic has had nothing if not an eclectic career, from studying history with Stephen Campbell Moore to boogying on the beaches with Meryl Streep and ABBA, but The Libertine marks a successful return for him to treading the West End boards. Brilliantly charismatic and cunningly charming (despite his protestations to the contrary), he struts around the stage with unbridled confidence and unwavering detachment; his Earl has not only seen or done it all, but likely instigated it.

Playing the perfect foil to his cavalier approach, Ophelia Lovibond’s forceful, resolute and fiery Elizabeth Barry sees through the illusion to witheringly cut him down to size. In an excellent supporting ensemble, who mischievously fritter into the corners of the murky 17th century streets set, Mark Hadfield, Nina Toussaint-White and Will Barton stand out as stout playwright George Etherege, conflicted prostitute Jane and steadfast servant Tom Alcock respectively.

What should I look out for?

No shortage of risqué scenes not to be watched with your parents – not least the musical opening to the second half of the show.

A sooner-than-anticipated return to the West End stage for “Nell Gwynn”, albeit portrayed in a very different light to that recently seen in the Apollo Theatre…

Who was in the press night crowd?

We spotted radio and television’s Dermot O’Leary and Caroline Flack in the crowd enjoying a production with plenty of X factor, while theatre star Daniel Evans was also present for the occasion.

In a nutshell?

Dominic Cooper dominates as the bawdy, brilliant and self-destructive Earl of Rochester in this crackling, darkly satirical drama.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

A dramatically rich and deliciously dark comedy, The Libertine is full of moments where you just can’t help but laugh.

While far from family friendly, the playful spirit of The Libertine is infectious, and grants Dominic the perfect platform on which to exert his charm. For a play which sees him open with the line “You will not like me”, it’s devilishly difficult not to.

The Libertine plays at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3 December. You can book your tickets through us here.

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