Review: The Libertine at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Film star and Brit actor Dominic Cooper makes his West End debut in Stephen Jeffreys’ The Libertine.

Last seen as a film in 2004 starring Johnny Depp and John Malkovich, The Libertine is now the subject of a major West End revival, taking over the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3 December.

Taking on the role of John Wilmot, the infamous Earl of Rochester – and the Libertine of the title – is Hollywood star Dominic Cooper, here making his West End debut.

Based on true events, this sharply written, comic play tells the story of Rochester’s life as a charismatic poet and playwright with a penchant for excess. A close friend of King Charles II, his life of debauchery knows no bounds; but when he meets headstrong actress Elizabeth Barry (Ophelia Lovibond) at the Playhouse, he is thrown – could she finally be the one to tame him?

Cooper is on fire here, clearly revelling in the fascinating allure of the role he is playing. He’s barely offstage, tremendously supported by his three leading ladies – Lovibond, Alice Bailey Johnson (as Rochester’s wife) and Nina Toussaint-White – and while the chemistry with all is completely on the mark, the play shines most of all when Cooper is teamed up with the likes of Jasper Britton, who puts in a star turn as King Charles II.

Tim Shortall’s set adds a clever dimension, shifting between scenes that play out on stage at the Playhouse to private quarters in Windsor, London and back to being backstage at the theatre – it is here, equally through the clever design, Jeffreys’ pointed script and Terry Johnson’s neat direction that the play manages to capture the invigorating essence of Restoration theatre.

At its core, The Libertine is a lewd comedy – and there’s plenty of spectacle on the humour front as the characters imbibe more and more alcohol, indulge their sexual desires with countless trips to London’s whorehouses, and bicker, argue and fight against the backdrop of historical, political turmoil. But the show is also a deep -rooted piece of drama, with a rather bleak and cruel denouement for our anti-hero – and, as such, offers audience a captivating, no-holds-barred portrait of a debauch rebel set firmly on self-destruct.

Tickets for The Libertine are on sale now. Get yours at