Presented by State Theatre Company of SA
Reviewed Tuesday 22nd February 2011
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 6:30pm Mon – Wed, 8pm Thurs – Sat and 5pm Sun (13 Mar only). Matinees 2pm (5 Mar) and 11am (9 Mar)
Duration: 110mins no interval
Tickets: From – adults $49/conc 42/under 30s $29
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or http://www.bass.net.au or Fringe TIX outlets or http://www.adelaidefringe.com.au
In 1666 Molière wrote Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire amoureux as a comedy of manners, satirising the French Bourgeoisie and its hypocrisy. Alceste, the misanthrope of the title, and Célimène, his love interest, are the central characters. Around them are members of the Court, many of whom are also enamoured of Célimène, and with whom she flirts. His plays Tartuffe and Don Juan had been banned for criticising the aristocracy and so there is an autobiographical quality to Alceste, the man who calls for truth and honesty. There is an inherent ambiguity in the character, however, questioning whether his stance is laudable, or whether he is simply a fool worthy of ridicule for his unattainable ideals.
Martin Crimp‘s version moves the action from the Court of Louis XIV to a London hotel room, where Célimène becomes Jennifer, a 22 year old Hollywood actress, notable more for her lack of clothing in her films than her acting skills. Alceste, a successful middle-aged playwright, is the only character to retain his original name in Crimp’s play. Once again, Alceste detests lies and hypocrisy and openly criticises those around him. Again, he falls in love with a woman who is everything he loathes. She, too, criticises those around her, but she does so behind their backs.
Crimp’s version is, like the original, written in verse and this causes it to be wordy and often makes the language unnatural. Interestingly, this is the very criticism that Alceste makes about the dialogue in a play being written by the critic, Covington, one of those lusting after Jennifer, along with her agent, Alexander, and the self-centred actor, Julian, another of Alexander’s clients. In the character of Covington, Crimp takes a double shot at British critics Michael Coveney (The Observer) and Michael Billington (The Guardian). This is just one of the references in this play that, being particularly British, fail to tickle the Australian funny bone.
Because of this wordiness and the awkward language the pace tends to be slow, and this lost the attention of a percentage of the audience early on, judging by the constant fidgeting, whispering and a few walk-outs during the performance. There are a few laughs in Crimp’s script, but not as many as one would have hoped.
When Molière wrote the original play he held up Bourgeois society for ridicule and exposed their failings to the ordinary theatre-going public. Crimp’s play, however, has none of that impact and shock value as the people in his play simple repeat the sort of inane gossip, being passed off as ‘news’, with which we are bombarded daily. This play is mild compared to the daily scandals that we are fed by the media and it leaves one thinking “so what?” The script, in fact, became rather tedious. It is left, therefore, to the cast to create captivating characters in order to engage the audience and this is where director, Catherine Fitzgerald, appears to have focussed her efforts.
Marco Chiappi is very much a ‘grumpy old man’ as Alceste, dark and brooding, arguing with his one real friend, John, and raging against the sycophantic antics of the others. Jude Henshall counters his Alceste nicely with her bright and slightly vacuous Jennifer, revelling in the attention of all of the men, politely trading insults with her old drama teacher, Marcia, and gossiping to the feminist journalist, Ellen.
Patrick Graham gives a sympathetic reading to the role of John, trying to save the inflexible Alceste from himself. Eileen Darley is beautifully waspish as Marcia, giving as good as she gets in her exchanges with Jennifer. Nic English, as Julian, and Renato Musolino, as Alexander create a terrifically devious pair of lechers. Caroline Mignone, as Ellen, gives a measured performance, pretending friendship then ruthlessly using Jennifer’s comments in print.
Brendan Rock presents us with a thoroughly unpleasant Covington in a well-crafted characterisation that avoids caricature. Robert Tompkins has a brief appearance as a messenger early on but reappears as the musician/singer in the party scene with an hilariously way over the top performance.
Julie Lynch’s set and costumes maintain a theme throughout. The hotel room is represented by a number of vertical panels, some heavily quilted and three making up a Warhol inspired triptych of Marilyn Monroe, oddly using mirror images of the same side of her face, rather than both sides. This transforms for the final scene, the high camp Louis quatorze fancy dress party, by rotating several of the panels, lighting the quilted sections and flying in a harpsichord. While Alceste stays in the same black clothing, the others now appear in exaggerated pseudo-period costumes, the colours based on those of their costumes for the first part of the play. David Gadsden’s lighting and the music written by Catherine Oates are important aspects of the work.
Go for the fine performances and try not to let the script inadequacies bother you.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.