Nothing is funnier than a grown man who's convinced that he's God's gift.
Playwright Dion Boucicault certainly thought so, because he decided to put not just one but four classic specimens of overweening male vanity into the one play to duke it out for our entertainment.
The play, which was his debut, was called London Assurance and it's currently playing at the Irish Rep, bringing some much needed holiday frivolity to these increasingly dark times.
The hit of 1841 by the then 20-year-old playwright, it's still a diverting bit of nonsense on the theme of pride, arrogance, insensitivity and vanity, all hallmarks of what we now call toxic masculinity, but what we used to just simply call men.
You might think, given its main plot about male vanity, that this would be an easy play to direct, but you would be wrong. Boucicault may line up his characters like bowling pins waiting for a ball to strike but then he lards the show with self-conscious Elizabethan blank verse that is – if we are being honest here – sometimes as hard to listen to as it must be to pronounce.
Charlotte Moore's new production is arch, satirical, knowing and firmly on the side of true love which, it turns out, is everything you need to make this play take flight. She keeps things moving at a sprightly pace and finds ample ways to skip past the creaky monologues and onto the action, which is where the real fun begins.
This is not the first production at the Rep where I gasped at the brilliance of the costume design, but a very special mention for Sara Jean Tosetti, who's character-defining clothes are so well-judged they are almost another character in the play.
The cast are a hoot. Colin McPhillamy owns his portrait of the hapless Sir Harcourt Courtly and so he gives him to us with all his absurdity and self-regard on full display. Actors do not often like to make themselves look this ridiculous but McPhillamy clearly delights in it, bringing the whole production and the audience along with him. He's perfection from his first appearance.
Caroline Strang plays Grace Harkaway, Sir Harcount's luckless intended with the eye-popping annual dowry. But she's far too young and too beautiful to wed this pomaded old suitor and sure enough soon she's being wooed by his son the equally hapless Young Charles Courtly (Ian Holocomb).
Strang is a superb theatre actor, more than equal to the over-egged dialogue and all the play's creaky theatrics. The young Boucicault's roles for women are more demanding than his roles for men and she hits every mark like a champion archer.
Rachel Pickup is ideally cast as the spirited Lady Gay Spanker, the personification of female empowerment and agency in a 19th-century context. Pickup is so good as a duplicitous lover that she threatens to run away with the entire show and both audience and cast seem than willing to support her.
Productions like these require fast thinking actors to drill through the top rock to the gold underneath and one of the delights of this Rep show is that every single actor on the stage has got the memo, working in delightful unison to help it take flight.
Brian Keane as the landed gentleman Max Harkaway and Craic Wesley Divino as the witty interloper Dazzle find a connection that reminds us how easily social distinctions can break down on a stage and what a relief it often is when they happen.
Dazzle caught my eye, as his name suggests he was intended to. A clear forerunner of Mr. Bunbury in "The Importance of Being Earnest", he's a man of unknown origin and suspect morals, which is often shorthand for Irish.
Dazzle helps other people to helpfully deceive each other in the same way that Ernest and Bunbury do in Wilde's decades later play, but when his accent travels over the water to Ireland the mask slips helpfully.
It's fascinating to think of how Boucicault, the 19th-century embodiment of the stage Irishman, placed such an unreadable and untrustworthy character in the heart of all these deluded English men.
Moore's canny direction allows him to runs rings around them all in this made for the holiday's confection that has more to say about class and keeping it than you might think.