The Theatreguide.London Review
Cottesloe Theatre Summer 2003
Nick Dear's new play is a delightful and witty comedy of manners that sneaks up on you with some solid insights into the nature of political power and offers a painless history lesson as well.
There isn't much more you could ask of a nice summer evening's entertainment except perhaps some fine performances, and you get those too.
Set in the Paris court of Louis XIV, the play centres on Nicolas Fouquet, who ran government finances for the king and enriched himself in the process until his embezzlements and ambitions grew too large for his personal charm and wit to excuse.
As we watch his rise and fall, we also see the young king grow in confidence as a ruler while also stumbling about a bit in his amorous dalliances.
Lindsay Posner cleverly directs the play as comedy approaching farce, so that its more serious insights catch us by surprise.
For example, when Louis' sister-in-law tries to cover her affair with the king by giving the public impression he is visiting one of her maids, and Louis actually falls for the girl, no one in court can be quite sure who is available and who spoken for, which puts a crimp on Fouquet's own attempts at dalliance.
That's funny, but the insight into how personal affairs affect politics is a strong one.
When Fouquet shows off the grand palace and gardens he has built with his embezzlements, he only inspires Louis to build the even grander Versailles.
But at the same time we realise that there is such a thing as going too far, and that Louis has grown from the somewhat tentative young king to one who can answer the plaintive question 'Why are you doing this to me?' with a cool 'Because I can.'
Robert Lindsay brings his considerable personal charm to the role of Fouquet, making us admire the guy's cleverness and style even as we fully recognise how slimy he is, as in a delightful scene in which he eloquently explains to a lady why he can't pause to seduce her today.
Rupert Penry-Jones makes Louis an attractive, open young man of obvious talents, so that his evolution into the Sun King is both believable and chilling.
Barbara Jefford always makes us aware that his battle-axe of a mother is fighting to protect the throne, while Stephen Boxer is nicely ambiguous as the number-crunching accountant who brings Fouquet down, never letting us be quite sure how pure his motives are.
Power is something that gets the girls and builds the palaces as well as ruling the country. But it is also something you can learn to wield or lose your grip on, both of them almost without realising it.
And a witty comedy that leaves us with that thought is as impressive as it is delightful.
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