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Infamous at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

The story is set in the first half in 1798, and in the second in 1815, and is refreshingly easy to follow – though I should perhaps point out that my local area has historic links to Emma Hamilton (1765-1815) and Lord Nelson (1758-1805), to whom Hamilton was mistress. Nelson worshipped regularly towards the end of his life, when he wasn’t at sea, at St Mary’s Church in Merton Park, and all of the pews from that time have been long replaced, apparently apart from his. There was a local pub called the Emma Hamilton, demolished in 2013 and now the site of an apartment block, and walking distance from my house is a pub called The Trafalgar. The NHS general practice of which I am a registered patient is called the Nelson Health Centre. And so on and so forth.

Rose Quentin and Riad Richie in Infamous at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photography by Steve Gregson.
Rose Quentin and Riad Richie in Infamous at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photography by Steve Gregson.

The play gives a good overview of Hamilton’s life, without taking hours and hours to do so, and yet without feeling rushed. The younger Hamilton is played by Rose Quentin, and Rose’s actual mother Caroline assumes the role of an older Hamilton after the interval. It’s never difficult to work it out – whoever is Emma is referred to as such often enough. Somewhat unimaginatively, the lovechild of Emma and Nelson (as he is referred to) is called Horatia (1801-1881), the character assigned to Rose in the second half.

In both settings, different in time period as well as economic standing, there’s an intriguing power struggle between two ladies. In the first half, Mrs Cadogan (Caroline Quentin) is Emma Hamilton’s mother (her father, Henry Lyon, died in her infancy, and her mother subsequently remarried), but is also, as Emma points out, the housekeeper. Emma, having married into wealth, has several servants, including Vincenzo (Riad Richie), whose flirtations, amusing as they are, are not only tolerated but are indicative of what is to come with Lord Nelson.

Very occasionally, the play tries a tad too hard to retain contemporary relevance – the older Emma blurts out, “unlike the British Government I always keep my word”, for instance. Some of the English/French language barriers between the older Emma, Horatia and Jacques Fournier (also Richie) during their time in France call to mind Shakespeare’s Henry V, but the play knows not to overdo it, not plying an English-speaking audience with too much French. It’s a delicate balance, and the show does it well.

Fotini Dimou’s set was impressive enough to receive applause on press night, the transformation from a comfortable front room to what Horatia calls “a barn” done brilliantly. Hamilton evidently lived a colourful life, the older Quentin’s comic timing being exquisite and sharp, providing much laughter even during quite serious points in the narrative. Riad Richie ensures that there really is no such thing as a small part: with most of the action and dialogue focused on the female characters, he makes the most of the stage time he has, exuberant but never too hammy. A subtle and nuanced production that suits this studio space like a custom-made pair of gloves.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Emma Hamilton is the name on everyone’s lips. Her Attitudes are the latest dance craze sweeping Europe, inspiring a generation of artists from Romney to Goethe. But Emma doesn’t want to be somebody’s muse – she wants to be the somebody. With rumours of Nelson’s imminent arrival swirling around Naples, Emma knows exactly which pose to strike to catch his attention and leave her mark on history. Or so she thinks…

The extraordinary life of Emma Hamilton bursts out of the history books and onto the stage in this witty and vivacious world premiere. April De Angelis reunites with director Michael Oakley to set the record straight on one of the most famous figures in Georgian society. Olivier Award-nominated Caroline Quentin stars alongside her daughter Rose Quentin, and Riad Richie.

Infamous
BY APRIL DE ANGELIS.
DIRECTED BY MICHAEL OAKLEY.
7 SEPTEMBER – 7 OCTOBER 2023
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

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