Do you want to know what it feels like to be in the audience for director Sean Foley’s production of A Mad World My Masters (Brighton Theatre Royal, March 10-14)?
“The whole thing is a bit like an amiable drunk stumbling down the road and walking towards you roistering,” Sean says.
“It’s a very funny evening in the theatre. It’s a comedy. It’s quite risqué. It just happens to have been written 400 years ago.”
Thomas Middleton’s (1580-1627) original has been updated to Soho in the 1950s: “When I did it, I just wanted to find something that worked in terms of the parallels for a play that is really about sex and money. We had to find a time that people could relate to, where the position and mores and standards were understandable in terms of the play, particularly in terms of how important it was to be a virgin before marriage and to obey your husband.”
The decision to update it was a straightforward one.
“Partly it was because we were putting on a play which was probably very little known. There are certain aspects in it which were terrific. It is a brilliantly written piece of stage comedy in that you have got a serious of brilliant comic situations strung together into a plot that comes at you headlong, like the amiable drunk coming out of the pub.
“But we also wanted to find the style. We have got music. That’s another element to the show. We have got a live band and a fantastic singer, and it is just semi set in this Soho night club. I just wanted to do something that was funny – not that it wouldn’t have been funny as it was written as the Jacobean play, but funny in terms of adapting it.
“We have still got the spirit of the original which is really completely anarchic fun, and that’s the spirit of the show. It is just that we have adapted and teased and edited the original, but it actually is pretty much the original play. It’s just that as it was, it would have been a bit like watching a 400-year-old episode of Have I Got News For You and just not understanding the references. You have got to cut those out, but you have still got the same fantastic comic structure behind it all. Those references are what date it.”
Get it right, and it all becomes about orchestrating comedy mayhem. As Sean says, it might look like chaos on stage, but stage chaos has to be incredibly well drilled.
“It’s like the old thing Eric Morecambe said. Someone asked him why his ad libs were so brilliant. He said ‘It is because I rehearse them so much!’ And that’s the thing about comedy. It has got to look like it is happening for the first time all the time. That’s the thing you have got to get right.”
And that was certainly the case with Sean’s production of Jeeves and Wooster which has just toured to Chichester and which was in Southampton last year after a successful spell in the West End.
“It has got to look like it is all going wrong, but it takes a lot of work to do that!”
Tickets for Brighton on 0844 871 7650.