This month, they bring a rambunctious adaptation of Thomas Middleton’s A Mad World My Masters to Cambridge, following a successful stint in Stratford-upon-Avon. Jointly produced by the RSC, this bawdy Jacobean comedy transfers to 1950s London, where toffs mix with the filth of society and wits are the only weapon.
Joe Bannister plays cash-strapped bachelor Richard Follywit, a man in pursuit of quick cash and a good time. Turning conman to fool his rich uncle, he becomes by turns a lord, a high-class call girl, and – God forbid – a poor actor. But a beautiful Soho tart is also in on the scam: a whore to some, a religious instructor to others, and a debutante in need of an eligible bachelor to more still.
The play is directed by Sean Foley, whose previous credits include the Morecambe and Wise tribute The Play What I Wrote and the West End adaptation of The Ladykillers. Why did he decide to take on Middleton for his next project?
“It was the funniest, but most over-looked play I could find,” says Foley. “A London-set rollicking good night out – a sort of joyous satire about human shortcomings, with terrific characters and some classic comic situations that I felt could be brought bang up to date.”
It’s a hilarious comedy about sex, money, and con-men
Why did you choose to set it in 1950s Soho?
“The music, the style, and the frocks! And the plot demands that posh people are in the same place as prostitutes, bent coppers, and con men – just what was happening in 1950’s Soho.
“People’s foibles about sex and money seem to be the same as they ever were… We really didn’t need to do much adapting of the play – and from the very first performance, people recognised exactly what it was about.”
What is the play about, in a sentence?
“It’s a hilarious comedy about sex, money, and con-men.”
The show is touring around the UK to nine different venues. How important is touring theatre?
“I just had an email forwarded to me from a group of people that had seen the show in Blackpool… they were a group of ex-addicts and offenders, and for most of them it was their first ever visit to the theatre, but they loved it! They had a great night out. To get that reaction makes you realise the importance entertainment and culture can have in everyone’s lives – theatre should be a great nights’ popular entertainment – just like it was in Shakespeare’s day. Unless we’d toured the show, that group never would have seen it, because they would never have made the trip to Stratford or London.”
You’ve included modern music in this Jacobean play. What does this add to the experience?
“The original play had music in it – we just updated it to the time we set it. But we also added wonderful Jazz and Rythym and Blues songs for each character, and we have a fantastic singer and live band with us – it adds to the live and anarchic feel of the show. It helps create an all round evening of entertainment.”
Watch the trailer here:
When did you first realise that working in theatre was a realistic dream?
“I started my own company with 2 other people at the age of 21. We were lucky that we didn’t know how hard it would be, or we wouldn’t have bothered!… But after a few years, we were still doing it, paying ourselves £40 a week… we just kept going until people had recognised what we were doing. You have to be fantastically determined, or very lucky – probably both – but it is a dream that anyone can realise if they really want to do it.”
Do you have any advice for budding directors trying to get a foothold in the industry?
“Don’t wait for someone to ask you – do it yourself!… You’ll get noticed if you just keep making work however you can.”
A Mad World, My Masters is at Cambridge Arts Theatre 21-25 April, 7.45pm. Tickets start at £15.