HE devised a way of making a meal out of tying a cravat, and a

sartorial fetish out of how to lay a table, but he emphatically would

not take tea. That is made quite plain in Bernard Da Costa's play about

the legendary Beau Brummell in Lorna Irvine's lively and epigrammatic

translation from the French for Fifth Estate.

''I can 'take' the train, I can 'take' a walk, I can 'take' umbrage, a

liking or even, if need be, a loathing, but I cannot 'take' tea,'' he

remonstrates with an admirer. The insistence on grammar as a matter of

courtesy anticipates Wilde, and it is more than a historical coincidence

that both aesthetes died penuriously in France after enforced exile and

imprisonment. They aspired to an ideal of exquisiteness that made

aristocratic England bristle over the implication of its own vulgarity.

Brummell, like Wilde after him, had to be booted out.

The play portrays him in his last days, holder of the mockingly

ill-remunerated sinecure of British Consul in Caen. Andrew Dallmeyer

does not make a performance as Brummell so much as a mesmeric act of

possession. He goes beyond surface affectation to capture the butterfly

of the man's soul, an immutable spirit scoring a triumph of imagination

over the grocery mentality of his tormentors and their crumb-counted

rations. We recognise a celebration of life force and a raising of

panache to heroic status.

Dallmeyer is nicely counterweighted by Andrew Barr, who plays

Brummell's faithful and caustic valet. At mild risk of some upstaging in

at least one of the ensemble scenes, Fifth Estate have supplemented the

cast and backstage crew with students from Telford College in a Sandy

Neilson production which is a more than creditable contribution to the

European Arts Festival.