2011

The Misanthrope

State Theatre Company – Her Majesty’s Theatre 18 Feb to 13 Mar

The State Theatre Company’s first production for 2010 is a reworked and updated version of Molière’s original play entitled The Misanthrope which he penned in 1666. Revised in 1996 by Martin Crimp, this version does away with almost all of the original characters names, and shifts the context of the piece from the French aristocratic society to a 21st century take on stardom in the film and television industry. Whether the re-envisioning of the piece works or not is beside the point, this interpretation is directed by Catherine Fitzgerald – and I enjoyed it.

Off to a very slow start, it was difficult to get a grasp on what this play was asking of its audience. The opening few scenes were slow and despite revealing eventually important information about the characters didn’t aid in advancing the plot. By the curtains fall it was clear that the context was not what mattered in this production but rather the characters, and their individual journeys within a relatively sparse storyline.

The show opens with us meeting Alceste, The Misanthrope – defined as a person who dislikes or distrusts other people or mankind in general. A writer, it is clear that he is unwilling to sell out to the magnates who control the media and artistic industries to which he must subscribe to forge success. However Alceste is conflicted by his love for a woman who personifies everything he dislikes, a film star of epic success, who is socially promiscuous with her agents, fellow actors, and the media – all characters paralleled with Molière’s original version.

Marco Chiappi has been tasked with the role of Alceste, and does a wonderful job. An actor with great physical and vocal control his delivery of the rhyming couplets is velvety and smooth. Julie Lynch (costume designer) has delved into the characters psyche to dress the players in their emotional wares – and Alceste is enveloped in shades of black and grey looking as gloomy as his attitude towards mankind.
Jude Henshall plays Jennifer, the modern re-envisioning of Célimène. A film star, she is Alceste’s love interest, and the focus of attention for the rest of the male cast, as her beauty, fame and popularity have her perched high upon a pedestal of which she does not wish to descend.
Henshall has created a great characterization, and is perfectly two faced in her manipulative interpretation of Jennifer.

The balance of the cast includes Eileen Darley, Nic English, Patrick Graham, Caroline Mignone, Renato Musolino, Brendan Rock and Robert Tompkins.

Musolino plays a refreshingly different role in this production which will give those familiar with his work a nice giggle as he camps it up in style. Robert Tompkins also gives two refreshing cameos as Simon and the Messenger which give the audience a nice laugh.

The set is interesting and appropriate, with lush quilted walls and opulent furnishings, in the second half evolving into one of the most garish and outlandish sets I have ever seen. Costuming is always perfectly reflective of each characters attitude, and delineates the hierarchy amongst the players nicely.

For a comedy/satire the opening night audience was probably a little short for laughs. It’s hard to say whether this was a result of some of the complicated language, or the actor’s failure to set up the funnier lines effectively. Overall however it was an enjoyable production, just perhaps a tad too long.

Paul Rodda

 

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