Society has become addicted to superficial glamour. Most of London's wealthy in-crowd spend their time shagging around, knocking back the booze or jabbering about their designer clothes - the men quite as much as the women. When they discuss the latest "news", this means mere gossip about which famous name is the week's most scandalous love rat.
Now, it may come as a surprise to learn this is London under Charles II: at least, that's the original setting for George Etherege's Restoration rake's comedy, The Man of Mode. Nicholas Hytner's new production forthrightly updates the action to swanky 21st-century bars, boutiques and pretentious Shoreditch galleries. Tom Hardy's Dorimant, the playboy protagonist, lounges in his bachelor pad with mirrored walls, dispatching his billets doux via email and looking like David Beckham-going-on-Robbie Williams as he poses for a photo shoot. He is all cocky swagger, biceps and tattoos, with greased-back hair. When he isn't laying Hayley Atwell's Belinda - the two-faced friend of his fuming mistress, Nancy Carroll's Loveit - he is seducing the heiress, Amber Agar's Harriet. Her mother, here, is an old-fashioned British-Asian, hence the arranged marriage to Amit Shah's Bellair.
Etherege's dialogue has been adjusted, nipped and tucked. So sedan chairs become cabs, the fruit hawker becomes a florist, the names of trendy hot spots are changed. Some alterations seem excessively nervous regarding archaisms. Are NT audiences now so dumbed-down that, in an exchange about a fashion-victim's suit, cries about an excessively high breech must be replaced with exclamations about low buttocks? That said, the updating is playful and fundamentally justified in conveying how Man of Mode was an up-to-the-minute satire in its time, and overall Hytner's shift in era proves a startlingly snug fit - far better than his recent modern-dress Alchemist. It's also interestingly comparable with Patrick Marber's modern rewrite of Molière, Don Juan in Soho, which opened at the Donmar just last month.
Rory Kinnear is show-stealingly hilarious as Fopling, a desperate prat trying to be cool, dancing on his own in front of the mirror and launching into a howlingly clichéd love song, sitting at Dorimant's piano like a singer-songwriter manqué. Bertie Carvel is also riveting as Medley, Dorimant's public-school chum and metrosexual spindoctor, who looks on with an almost devilish smirk. Carroll flounces splendidly as well. Unfortunately, other cast members aren't so good. Agar doesn't capture Harriet's rebellious streak, so never seems a match for Dorimant. Hardy has laddish swagger yet only sporadically sizzles. In fact, Hytner's whole production dazzles visually but lacks depth. It is terrifically slick and stylish with danced street scenes. However, real pain and serious nastiness are glossed over. Worth seeing though not ultimately satisfying.
Demonstrating that Pinter can be a laugh a minute is suddenly à la mode too, with Sir Harold's rather surprising blessing. Hot on the heels of Bill Bailey's Haymarket staging of his sketches - with some sorely overdone physical clowning - we have Lee Evans starring in The Dumb Waiter, an early two-hander that is something like Waiting For Godot crossed with a crime thriller. Two little guys, Evans's dimwitted Gus and Jason Isaacs's tetchy Ben, are stuck in a basement, waiting for orders from a mysterious boss. They are his henchmen, but keep getting absurd notes demanding room service, sent via the dumb waiter.
This is an intriguing weird and certainly comical work but the room service routine is overextended and, whilst Harry Burton's staging looks claustrophobically bleak, Isaacs needs more weighty menace. Evans, as always, is irresistibly funny as a splay-footed dimwit, but he was more brilliant and tightly directed in Beckett's Endgame.
Lastly, Nothing but the Truth is the famed writer-performer John Kani's new drama about post-Apartheid South Africa. Kani plays Sipho, a long-suffering librarian still not fully valued at work. Meanwhile, his daughter is translating for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as devotedly cleaning for her father. When Sipho's niece visits from London, she brings the ashes of his long-estranged brother, stirs up painful memories of agro between them, argues about the TRC and brassily challenges his patriarchal sway. In the end, the blend of personal and political anger becomes fierce and absorbing. Kani's performance is impressively sturdy and pained, especially in his big climactic speeches. Alas though, the hard truth is that the London niece is badly acted and the dialogue is stiff.
'The Man of Mode' (020 7452 3000) to 10 Mar; 'Nothing but the Truth' (020 7722 9301) to 24 Feb; 'The Dumb Waiter' (0870 060 66322) to 24 MarReuse content