Director: David Furlong
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
With the United Kingdom and France both recovering from election campaigns, satirical words on fake news and spin feel particularly apposite, even if those words come from the 17th Century. Molière’s Le Misanthrope, written in rhyming verse, premiered in Paris in 1666, staging the play with alternate performances in French and English, Exchange Theatre’s revival relocates it to a modern television newsroom.
David Furlong directs the production and plays the lead role, the misanthropic Alceste, who advocates honesty over hypocrisy. The play begins with a protracted argument between Alceste and his friend Philinte (Simeon Oakes), who is an instinctive flatterer. When Oronte (Palmyre Ligué) performs a sonnet in a style that could be a forerunner to hip-hop, Philinte lavishes him with praise and Alceste cannot help but tell the truth, setting up a rivalry that runs through the play.
Célimène (Anoushka Ravanshad) is a star of the small screen who sits regally at the news desk with a familiar city skyline behind her. She is a two-timer, with both Alceste and Oronte competing for her affections. Furlong links Molière’s themes of fact versus fiction, truth versus tact to the modern era with film clips of right wing politicians – Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen – uttering their sound bites.
The media folk are shown to be hard-drinking, coke-snorting gossipers who flap around Célimène’s “court” busily, having arrived at their posts to the accompaniment of Nine to Five. Citandre (James Buttling) and Acaste (Luca Fontaine) are a debauched pair of hacks, something like Molière’s equivalent to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Fanny Dulin doubles as Philiinte’s sweetheart and a celebrity studio guest.
The core idea is good, but its execution is less successful. Impromptu interactions with the audience and a languid pace give a laid back feel to the early stages, but, as things progress, there is a growing suspicion that the production is less understated then under-rehearsed. Sudden bursts of anger feel completely out of place and spells of inactivity between scenes interrupt the play’s flow. An unnecessarily cluttered stage makes things look still more clumsy and, when actors enter an alcove at the back they are barely visible.
Brexit may be imminent, but Exchange Theatre seems determined that the Entente Cordiale will live on in theatrical form. Here, while presenting a rarely seen classic, they expose modern news coverage as being all about polish and style, but, sadly, these ingredients are in short supply in their production itself.
Runs until 8 July 2017 | Image: Hannan Images