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From Angie in Michigan:
I was curious about one aspect of "The Scarlet Pimpernel". That is, when Percy and his men act like fops. How far should that be taken? I've seen it where the foppishness was (in my opinion) too over the top. But then, people expect them to act silly. I was wondering what you thought.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Dear Angie,

You raise a really good question. In fact, we sometimes asked ourselves that question in the original Broadway show. I think in general one must rely upon a director who himself is fairly grounded and not leaning radically toward either "This should be an absolute scream!" or "We absolutely have to keep this politically correct." The funny scenes are indeed meant to be funny- very funny if possible, and Percy needs to be given a free rein (in rehearsals, anyway) to see what develops. A director can always pull an actor back if necessary, so it's better to let the actor spread his wings and then clip a little here and there if he's going too far. Percy can never become a caricature. It's essential that we continue to believe throughout that this is a man of honor, a man in love, a leader of men, a true hero. We can then adore him and laugh with him when he goes into his fop act, never ceasing to recognize who he is underneath.

It's somewhat trickier with Percy's men. My intention in the script is that we believe that most of these men are indolent- they just spend their lives loitering about, indulging in pleasures, marveling at clothes or, like Elton, "netting butterflies." They are the landed gentry, men with inherited wealth, and they have for the most part been too self-centered to ever think about a mission or a cause. So indeed many of them are "fops" by nature. If you do research in British history, you'll find that a fairly large percentage of the gentry of many periods were "foppish." They were the sycophants who surrounded the king and played in royal games and gossip. They did have their dandified clothes and snuff boxes. What I want the audience to understand is that Percy becomes disgusted with the uselessness of this life style. He, himself, has never gone over the line to become a silly fop, but a few of his friends have and all of his friends are engaged in their own selfish pursuits with not a thought for what's going on in the world. Percy wakes them up. He fairly clobbers them over the head, urging them to join him in a worthwhile pursuit, to make something of their lives. And- being the brilliant Percy that he is- he realizes that he can still make good use of their somewhat foppish natures. They can exaggerate themselves to such a degree that no one would ever suspect them of being members of the League of The Scarlet Pimpernel. What we need to see is a development. A) The men are self-satisfied gentry, some of them rather silly. B) The men are stunned to think they might be able to join this adventure. C) The men find that they actually adore the fun of the chase and they do have it in themselves to act heroically. D) The men have more fun that ever pretending to be bigger fops than they ever were in reality- it's a bit akin to putting on a fabulous Halloween costume. They grossly exaggerate their former selves so as to deflect suspicion, but they're also having fun doing that. It is this stage that you perhaps have a problem with- where you see them "going over the top." But with a skillful director, one should be able to see the purpose of this exaggeration and enjoy the men making fun of themselves. They should at times go over the top- they have to be much foppier than they were at the start of the show. The audience should feel it's in on the joke and therefore not question the degree of foolishness. E) The men, by close of show, have grown as individuals and developed a real solidarity as a group. They have experienced true danger for perhaps the first time in their lives and also are perhaps honestly respecting themselves and each other for the first time. They still retain the natural wit and sense of fun that they always have, but they have in a sense "grown up." They've seen life. They'll never again be able to ignore the world outside.

Hope that answers your question, Angie. Thanks for writing- Nan

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