- Chris O'Rourke
The Misanthrope by Molière
Photo Credit: Al Craig
An infamous exploration of notorious bad manners
The opening five minutes of any performance establish for the audience what they can expect during the ensuing production. In AC Productions latest production of Molière’s “The Misanthrope” it takes the whole of five seconds. Taking off at speed, this adaption, updated new version, or whatever you chose to call it, is an admirer of tradition but no respecter of it, pokes merciless fun at pretence and stereotypes and is unapologetically laugh out loud. Or more simply put, is true to the spirit of the great Molière. With a sizeable chunk of “The Misanthrope’s” original text and cast flung overboard, AC Productions’ unapologetic and unrestrained romp is an absolute joy.
First produced in 1666, “The Misanthrope” follows the follies of a group of real and masquerading suitors in 18th century Paris as they vie for the affections of the widow Celemine. The priestly serious Alceste, the eponymous misanthrope displaying utter contempt for the failings of his fellow humans, believes himself her favourite. But he will not heed the worldly advice of Philinte on how to hold his tongue and deal less in truth and more in flattery. Especially when it comes to unpoetic poet Oronte, a man versed in influence, if not in verse. But Alceste’s was never one for seeing what was right in front of his nose. Not the love of the lovelorn Eliante nor the true dangers of his rival suitor Giovanni. As things finally become clearer choices must be made as marriage proposals are flung about like a squirrel flinging nuts. But will love win true or be run through?
A veteran of adaptations, director Peter Reid seems to share something of a particular affinity with Molière. Perhaps because both share a healthy sense of irreverence, cobbling together the productions they want from wherever they want after the design they want. Like his recent “Hamlet,” it doesn’t always work as well as it might, but Reid is always willing to take the chance and push the boat out. And when it does work, as it does here and in AC Productions hugely enjoyable adaptation of Molière’s “The School for Wives,” it’s an extremely entertaining night of theatre.
All of which hinge on some excellent performances, displaying some strong, and for the most part successful, choices. Bern Deegan’s ultra-camp Oronte and Grace Fitzgerald’s unrequited Eliante, are both thoroughly enjoyable, as is Matt Ryan as the poodle like Philinte. Paul Kealyn’s Alceste’s is wonderful when engaging with others, but in paring things right back to just a bare minimum stare into the distance when unengaged, Kealyn risked Alceste’s aloofness transporting him to too far a remove from those around him. In contrast, Matthew O’Brien as the Italian lover Giovanni, was ever present to those around him, including himself, in an unashamedly over the top send up of the stereotypical Italian lothario. Loud, arrogant and utterly hilarious, O’Brien’s performance is a sheer delight. As is Sorcha Furlong as the wiser than she admits Celemine, seeming to channel old movie glamour with a playful, D4 sensibility whose humour wouldn’t be amiss in a Ross O’Carroll Kelly novel.
There are some minor vocal issues, hopefully resulting from opening night nerves, including volumes alternating from too low whispers to too high shrieks and pace being a little too pacey at times, but they weren’t enough to detract from this joyous experience and will hopefully resolve themselves as “The Misanthrope” continues. Fun and funny, with both heart and humanity, AC Productions version of Molière’s “The Misanthrope” is infamously good, bordering on notorious. Molière would have been well pleased.
“The Misanthrope” by Molière, adapted by Peter Reid and produced by AC Productions runs at The New Theatre until September 10th
Show begins 7.30 p.m.
For further information, visit The New Theatre