The Royal Opera – Pleasure’s Progress

Pleasure’s Progress – A Tale of Sex! Wigs! Wags! ‘n’ Bawds! [London premiere]

Pamela Prim – Laura Caldow
Tom Rakewell – Matthew Hart
Giles de Tourette – Nuno Silva
Lizzie Scry – Clemmie Sveaas
Nancy – Anna Denis
Jack Hackabout – Matthew Sharp
Hogarth – Tom Solomon

Will Tuckett – Director & Choreographer
Paul Englishby – Music
Alasdair Middleton – Libretto
Jon Bausor – Designs
Jon Clark – Lighting design
Michael Haslam & Jeff Moore – musicians

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 23 September, 2010
Venue: Linbury Studio Theatre at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Like some of his other theatre work (“Wind in the Willows” and “The Soldier’s Tale” come to mind), Will Tuckett’s “Pleasure’s Progress”, which has been pleasuring itself during the summer, mainly in Suffolk, before making its diseased progress to Covent Garden where it belongs, has got staying power written all over it.

You’ll get Tuckett’s take on William Hogarth’s pitiless observations of 18th-century London low-life from the subtitle of his fairly comprehensive survey of vice – ‘A Tale of Sex! Wigs! Wags! ‘n’ Bawds!’. But the twist in the tale is that Hogarth’s bleak, lovingly detailed and prescient (thank heavens photography wasn’t available to him) engravings – “The Harlot’s Progress”, “The Rake’s Progress”, “Gin Lane” and “Beer Street” – are recreated by the damaged inmates of the Bedlam madhouse, with their show narrated by Hogarth himself. The lunatics sure have taken over the asylum.The songs embrace the wages of sin with gusto – the wife’s graphically expressed sexual frustration from ‘Marriage A-la-mode’, a no less frank lament to erectile dysfunction, and an explicit ballad to the delights in store for clap-sufferers. Another of the songs, with the line “Come, lick my nuts”, suggests the level Tuckett is very successfully aiming at.

Among the seven-strong cast, Laura Caldow’s Pamela Prim (with a wonderfully proper Morningside accent), Clemmie Sveaas’s Lizzie and Tom Solomon’s Hogarth jumped to our attention, but all of them were outrageously good, singing and dancing with abandon. Tuckett’s choreography/movement was witty, sleazy and vigorous – this is what I understand by the term music-theatre. Paul Englishby’s music (he wrote a very effective score for the hit film “An Education”) is a wickedly spot-on baroque parody, with the two musicians – Michael Haslam (directing from an electronic keyboard) and the accordion-, saw- and violin-playing Jeff Moore – spicing up the action.

You have to be quick to catch the double-entendres in Alasdair Middleton’s libretto – quite a lot gets lost, but what I did hear was very funny. The costumes are all based, again with a shrewd eye for parody, on the Hogarth engravings. It’s a fairly long sit – nearly 90 minutes – and the Linbury isn’t the height of comfort, and just occasionally a song or two goes on a bit too long. But this is as nothing compared with the exuberance, inventiveness and surprisingly frequent touching moments of the show.

Drunkenness, debt, debauchery, lawlessness, sexually-transmitted diseases, and sexual exploitation, murder, squalor, child abuse – what a relief humanity has moved on since the 18th-century!

  • Further performances on September 24, 25 (matinee & evening) & 26 at 7.30 p.m.
  • Royal Opera

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