I saw the 2004 film The Libertine at university, during the height of my Johnny Depp crush. I always knew it was based on a play, but have never had the chance to see it until now. This production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket stars Dominic Cooper and is directed by Terry Johnson.
Stephen Jeffreys’ play is based on the life of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, whose scandalous existence was the stuff of legend in his own time and whose sharp, satirical and extremely bawdy verse survives to this day. He was the original “mad, bad and dangerous to know” poet, over a century before Byron was even born. This play follows his life from the peak of his status to his sad and untimely death from syphilis, as he seduces women, antagonises the king and helps to change the face of theatre.
Cooper gives a good performance, showing us the intelligence behind Rochester’s licentious behaviour. There are memorable and entertaining moments: I don’t think I am likely to see a dance involving giant dildos again, for example. However, this is one instance where I definitely preferred the film to the play, and I say that very rarely.