David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Tom Jones is all about sex. I refer, of course, to the man who gave the world "Delilah" and any number of women a big thrill singing his heart out of his suitably hirsute chest. I could also be referring to Tony Richardson's spirited film of Henry Fielding's novel, (screenplay by John Osborne, no less), which featured Albert Finney going about his bawdy business to quadruple Oscar-winning effect. Sex - and money - are at the centre of Fielding's novels, especially the delirious Joseph Andrews with its wonderful comic creations the amorous Lady Booby and the chambermaid Mrs Slipslop.

It is less well-known that prior to becoming a novelist, Fielding was very much a man of the theatre, with 26 plays to his name. His theatrical career came to an abrupt end with The Historical Register for 1736, a political satire which fell foul of the newly formed Lord Chamberlain's theatrical censorship office, a body only abolished in 1968.

Shaw described him as the greatest practicing dramatist since Shakespeare, but despite the overstatement expected of the bearded one, Nick Philippou was sufficiently fascinated to choose The Modern Husband as the latest production for the Actors Touring Company.

"It had a cast of 22, the sub-plot wasn't really integrated and narrative was not his greatest gift," Philippou says, but he persevered. "At its heart there's an extraordinary, monstrous dance between five people."

Playwright Paul Godfrey has adapted it, concentrating on those five characters to see how far they will go in the pursuit of marriage and money. As Fielding wrote in Tom Jones: "His designs were strictly honourable... that is, to rob a lady of her fortune by way of marriage." With Philippou's record on plays about gender and a cast led by Richard Cant (above, with Jessica Lloyd), the captivatingly touching Audrey from Cheek by Jowl's dazzling As You Like It, it's a smart idea in very good hands.

'The Modern Husband', Lyric Hammersmith, London W6 (0181-741 2311) from 21 Nov