Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope by Molière, a new version by Justin Fleming.  Bell Shakespeare in association with Griffin Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House Playhouse, August 28 – September 28, 2018.

Previewed by Frank McKone
August 28

I think I can say without reservation that
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin and Justin Fleming at
the game of couplet rhyming are equally exquisite –
so please make sure you pay them both a visit.

Their minds surely meet over four centuries fleet
In this stage production which is such a glorious treat
That even the very first preview had the audience on their feet.

Enough!, I say, but it is absolutely true that Fleming’s adaptation of Molière’s often vicious rhyming, satirising the pompous wealthy of his 17th Century day, works as well as ever for tearing strips off our modern Me, Me, Me middle class.

Even better – sex role reversal opens up the issues of individual integrity, purity and honesty, and the conflict of interest between reason and love, in a new way for a modern audience.  The old convention of the beautiful but a bit naïve young woman having to deal with two men both claiming to love her, but with very different motivations, is more than turned on its head when Alceste is now a woman, Cymbeline (Célimène) is a man – but so is Orton; and  Philinte (a polite and tactful man for Molière) becomes Philippa, whose object of romantic attentions is Éliante, still a woman now known as Eleanor, Cymbeline’s sister.  The puritanical prudish Arsenio, remains male, as up-himself as ever today as he was 400 years ago.

The clever idea in this production, I think, is that Eleanor is the Stage Manager – the most practical and unassuming person, working hard in a backstage setting that I’m sure Jean-Baptiste would instantly recognise, to get the dramatic cats herded.  This setting is a great original idea which opens up theatrical opportunities in wonderful, satirical and very funny ways.

The cast enjoyed the first run, including a couple of interesting improvisations, as much as we did and you will:

Alceste – Danielle Cormack        Arsenio – Simon Burke
Eleanor – Catherine Davies        Cymbeline – Ben Gerrard
Philippa – Rebecca Massey        Orton / Cleveland – Hamish Michael
Angus – Anthony Taufa

Director – Lee Lewis            Designer – Dan Potra
Lighting Designer – Matthew Marshall
Composers and Sound Designers – Max Lambert and Roger Lock
Voice Coach – Jess Chambers    Choreographer – Kelley Abbey