Stephen Jeffreys' play The Libertine is a historical drama and comedy of manners about John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a Restoration poet, playwright and renowned libertine. It was first performed, in a production by Out of Joint, at the University of Warwick Arts Centre on 20 October 1994 and then on tour, culminating at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 6 December 1994.
The play opens with a prologue delivered by Rochester direct to the audience, in which he declares: 'I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me.' As the play opens, Rochester is already a writer and dramatist of reputed brilliance, a sexual adventurer of polymorphous tastes, a feverish alcoholic and a mischief-maker. He amuses the degenerate but shrewd King Charles II, but his irreverence is losing acceptability and Rochester is sternly reminded that 'there is a time to be for things.' Nevertheless, he continues to compulsively test the limits of his society. Most perilous of all, he falls madly in love with Elizabeth Barry, a young actress he attempts to mould. But Barry is more than his match, and Rochester's downfall is set in motion.
The Out of Joint premiere was directed by Max Stafford-Clark and designed by Peter Hartwell. It was performed by David Westhead (as Rochester), Cathryn Bradshaw, Amanda Drew, Bernard Gallagher, Barnaby Kay, Katrina Levon (as Elizabeth Barry), Tim Potter (as Charles II), Nicola Walker, Jason Watkins and Tricia Thorns.
It was premiered in America in 1996 by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in a production directed by Terry Johnson, with John Malkovich as Rochester.
A feature film adaptation with a screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys was released in 2004, directed by Laurence Dunmore and starring Johnny Depp as Rochester and John Malkovich as Charles II.
A major revival of the play by the Theatre Royal Bath and Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2016 was directed by Terry Johnson and starred Dominic Cooper as Rochester.