By Daniel Evans
Some 30 years before he died in 1840, penniless and insane in an asylum outside Caen in France, Beau Brummell was one of the most influential figures in regency England. A friend of the future king, he was an arbiter of men’s fashion and dominated the way people dressed around town.
He certainly had style and is credited with establishing the modern suit while rejecting more ornate fashions. According to legend, he took five hours a day to dress and recommended that boots be polished with champagne.
The word “Dandyism” was invented to describe his world of fashion and fun – and it was a world which has been brought to life at the Jermyn Street Theatre which is currently presenting Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness to enthusiastic theatregoers.
The play, starring Sean Brosnan and Richard Latham. is set in the winter of 1819. As the most stylish man of his day lives in exile in a madhouse in Calais, George Bryan Brummell revels in past glories when he dominated the worlds of fashion, wit and dress. He is convinced his old friend and patron the Prince of Wales (by now King George IV) will visit him and restore his position in society. Today, the King is coming to Calais! Brummell’s valet, however, fired by revolutionary zeal, has other plans for the British monarch…
This black comedy by Emmy award-winning Ron Hutchinson has not been seen in London for 15 years so the script has been updated to reinvigorate the text which seems even more resonant in today’s celebrity obsessed world.
Director Peter Craze was delighted to be bringing Ron Hutchinson’s play back to Beau Brummell’s spiritual home of Jermyn Street. “Two years ago we dealt with the fall of another dandy in The Trials of Oscar Wilde,” said Craze. “Now we are telling the story of the original wit and man of fashion. Brummell once said that ‘To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed’ and now he is largely forgotten. We hope this production will go some way to restoring his reputation.”
The critics were certainly impressed. “Sean Brosnan mesmerises as the Beau,” says Time Out. “A spectacle both ludicrous and touching due to Peter Craze’s adroit direction” while The Stage writes: “As Beau Brummell, Sean Brosnan is haughty, cool, racked with impotent rage and convincingly mad. His coarse-grained valet, played by Richard Latham, excites more sympathy.”
The tailors of Savile Row exist largely because of Beau Brummell’s patronage of tailors and his legacy is celebrated with a statue on Jermyn Street. Take a closer look when you next walk past it.
Beau Brummell: An Elegant Madness runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until March 11