February 27, 2011

Satire driven by comic gusto

February 24

Moliere’s The Misanthrope
In a version by Martin Crimp
State Theatre Company of South Australia
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide.
February 22. Tickets  $ 29 – $59. Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until March 13.

We know that classics often improve with time, their insights and observations becoming more apt. But up-dated adaptations can often have a more butterfly-like lifespan. Happily, this is not so with UK playwright, Martin Crimp’s astute, deftly-rhymed translation of Moliere’s The Misanthrope, which, first performed in 1996, and revived in London in 2009,  seems only to have become more timely. Set in London, it revolves around the cynical-but-honest playwright, Alceste (the only one of Moliere’s originals to keep his name) his friend and confidante John, and the young, vivacious actress Jennifer  and her circle of scene-makers and B-celebs.

State Theatre Associate Director Catherine Fitzgerald has gathered a lively cast to explore the vanities and  machinations of the kind of self-promotion now made even more possible  by social media like Twitter, Facebook and, even perhaps, what we might call – Two-Facebook. With exuberant black-edged design and red-trim costuming by Julie Lynch, culminating in a Louis XIV extravaganza which would shame Lady Gaga back into her egg,  Fitzgerald’s production nicely manages the comic gusto of the text with Moliere/Crimp’s more searching questions about the balance between personal integrity and social pragmatism.

As Alceste, Marco Chiappi,  expertly anchors the proceedings, managing the rhyming cadence with conversational ease and registering the exasperations of a prophet forced to report, from his one eye, on the land of the deluded and blind. He is well supported by Patrick Graham’s amiably moderate John and Jude Henshall’s vivacious Jennifer, enjoying the social whirl with youthful relish and unrepentant even when she comes unstuck. As the array of contemporary courtiers, Renato Musilino (Alexander, the agent) Nic English (Julian, the beefcake actor) Caroline Mignone (Ellen the columnist)  Eileen Darley (Marcia, the acting teacher) and Brendan Rock (Covington,the critic who would be playwright), capably play the stock characters without dulling their satiric edge. And, in the final scene, Robert Tompkins’ wigged and powdered Simon almost steals the show with his harpsichord version of Don’t Leave Me this Way.

Some of Crimp’s targets – the vogue for the postmodern theories of Derrida and Barthes for instance – have muted since the first production, but he has added some tasty up-dates for the recent revivals of the play. YouTube gets a name-check and, for visual arts vogue, it’s Banksy now, not Damien Hirst’s glass case sheep. But he still amusingly rhymes Pollock with bollock and State Theatre’s fluently witty production of The Misanthrope reminds us that there is plenty of fun to be had from other people’s folly.

Murray Bramwell

“Satire driven by comic gusto” The Australian, February 24, 2011, p.16

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