Saturday, April 13, 2019


The Miser by Moliere.

Written in a modern translation by Justin Fleming. Directed by Peter Evans. Designer Anna Treagloan. Lighting designer. Matt Cox. Composer and Sound Designer . Max Lyandvert. Mpvement and fight director. Nigel Poulton. Voice and text coach. Jess Chambers. Bell Shakespeare Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. April 12 to 20 2019. Bookings: www.canberra theatre 0r 62752700

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

John Bell as Harpagon in Bell Shakespeare's The Miser
The Miser Harpagon stands alone, clutching and caressing his precious box of ten thousand gold crowns.  The lights fade on a sombre moment of puzzled realization after the four doors of the single walled set close behind him. It signals the final departure of his daughter  Elise, engaged to his maid Valére, and his son, Cleante, finally free to marry his ardent love, Mariane. 
Bell Shakespeare’s production of Moliere’s The Miser sparkles with wit and style. It’s a gem of a show, wickedly mischievous in its biting satire and furiously contemporary in Justin Fleming’s adaptation. Director Peter Evans, working ingeniously with designer Anna Tregloan’s  set of doors has turned this boldly modern version into farce with lightning entrances and exits to dazzle and delight. 
Seamus O’Shea as Signor Anselm, Harriet Gordon-
Anderson as Elise, Joanne Tovey as Valére, Elizabeth
Nabbin as Mariane, John Bell as Harpagon, Michelle
Doake as Francine and Russell Smith as the
Chief of Police in Bell Shakespeare’s The Miser.

A stellar cast, headed by the irrepressible John Bell, and under the fast and flashy direction of  Evans, revel in the spirit of classic Moliere. The stock characters, drawn from the traditional Commedia dell’ Arte are readily identifiable. John Bell as Commedia’s Pantalone, the crotchety, miserly patriarch makes a welcome return to the company that he founded thirty years ago. His slovenly unkempt entry in coarse singlet and trousers held up by braces over his stooped frame mark him as a man of poverty, belying his hidden wealth. His crackling, sharp as barbed wire accent is coarse, broad Australian and his demeanour spits vitriol. Bell’s performance, later transformed into an oozing, bewigged and sleazy suitor to Mariane (Elizabeth Nabbin) brilliantly epitomizes the lean and scrawny, mean spirited and avaricious nature of a Pantalone. The production is worth seeing for Bell’s transformative performance alone.

But that should in no way diminish the stellar performances of a cast that eagerly embrace the pace and pressure of playing farce. The characters leap from the Commedia tradition and the Moliere canon.  Each character is impeccably researched, and yet refreshingly modern, with an ipad toting Chief of Police (Russel Smith), while retaining the classical semblance of the bewigged    Signor Anselm , grandiosely played by Sean O’Shea or  the flamboyantly costumed Francine  played with excessive fervour and cunning by Michelle Doake as the wonderfully ebullient and  impetuous  Arlecchino character of the production.

Michelle Doake as Francine. Elizabeth Nabbin as
Mariane and Damien Strouthos as Cleante

The victims of this comedy of mixed messages and social manners are the lovers Cleante (Damien Strouthos) and Mariane. Fleming’s translation takes mischievous liberty with Moliere’s original by letting his idiomatic rhyme surprise with an opening lover’s tryst between Elise (Harriet Gordon Anderson) and Valére (Jessica Tovey), thus complicating the frantic deceptions even more. Cognisant  of the passing of three hundred and fifty years, Fleming lends his translation a feistier touch. Elise and Cleante, though firmly kept beneath their father’s niggardly will, are bolder in their retorts, children of will, aided and abetted by Francine and Valére against the forces of the bumbling clownish cook cum driver, Jamie Oxenbould. Bell Shakespeare’s The Miser draws out a more contemporary family conflict, yet with the universal rules of status that apply. It is what makes this production so immediately accessible.
All’s well that ends well for lovers and the like, though not for a man left bewildered and confused by his own vices. To discover the ending and the revelation that seals Harpagon’s ultimate fate, you will need to see this immaculately staged comedy. I will offer no spoilers other than to augur a happy ending. The Miser is rarely staged, and certainly not as Fleming’s sharp and hilarious version, or by a cast so attuned to the ridiculous and potentially perilous nature of the human condition, its frailties and its love.  

Photos by Prudence Upton