INFAMOUS at Jermyn Street Theatre
“There are wonderful moments of humour and wit”
Lady Emma Hamilton was a truly fascinating figure. Reading her Wikipedia page is akin to a modern gossip column – salacious affairs, a secret love child and an obsession with keeping up appearances for the media. Emma is perhaps most well-known for her ‘attitudes’ – alluring tableaux vivants in which she portrayed sculptures and paintings – made her an international superstar and started a fashion for a draped Grecian style of dress.
Directed by Michael Oakley and written by April De Angelis, Infamous delivers a neat summary of it all whilst asking its audience to consider whether a woman can really be famous and respectable.
Using a hand time skip, Infamous presents Emma at two different points in her life: 1798 and 1815. In the former, Emma is played by Rose Quentin and her mother-cum-housekeeper, Mrs Cadogan, played by her real-life mother Caroline Quentin. Here, Emma is vivacious, at the peak of her fame. Married to Sir William Hamilton, she lives in the beautiful Palazzo Sessa overlooking Mount Vesuvius. However, Emma has her sights set on becoming the mistress or indeed wife of the great Lord Horatio Nelson and climb further up the social and political ladder.
Yet, by 1815, Emma (now played by Caroline) is near-destitute living with her daughter by Nelson – Horatia (Rose) – in a barn in Calais. Abandoned by Nelson’s family after his death, the duo has nothing to her name. Emma, consumed by drink, encourages Horatia to pursue the local mayor’s son in hopes that her daughter will repeat her own success in rising to high society. Horatia serves a similar purpose to Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous – the sensible foil to her eccentric mother.
There is great chemistry between the two Quentens. Caroline is expectedly wonderful – demonstrating her incredible range by playing two entirely different characters with such ease. Rose is good too – best as Horatia. Rose’s young Emma is a bit overblown at points – her accent a bit too overblown. The younger Quenten also appears to be a fan of a knowing glance to the audience which at points unfortunately undercuts her performance and our immersion in the play. Riad Richie provides great support despite most of his lines being in French or Italian for his respective roles – Vincenzo and Jacques Fournier – in the two halves.
There are wonderful moments of humour and wit. Caroline excels as mad old Emma and her rendition of the attitudes for a confused Jacques garners the most laughs. The second half has a quicker pace and more interest of the two – we are at first amused by our selfish lead’s fall from grace but then feel tremendous pathos at her death, in no small part to Caroline’s amazing performance.
The set is excellently designed by Fotini Dimou. The painted wall panels of the Italian villa transform seamlessly into the haphazard wooden slats of the French barn in which Emma and Horatia are forced to reside. Christopher Naire provides gentle but effective lighting – the soft but vibrant light of dusk and dawn rendered beautifully.
Lady Emma Hamilton was a woman of pure ambition. Lampooned in the media and gathering equal number enemies and supports wherever she went, it is hard not to admire her dedication to fame, fortune and influence. Infamous shows a bit of everything, never feeling too rushed or too slow, and has a great acting duo at its heart. Well worth a watch.
INFAMOUS at Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed on 12th September 2023
by Flora Doble
Photography by Steve Gregson
Previously reviewed at this venue: