Ah, the theatre. The smell of greasepaint, the whiff of powder, and of course, that self-satisfied feeling of being immersed in “Culture”. The highbrow stuff that you’ve heard them talk about over at The Guardian. Molière’s The Miser was first performed in 1668, so comes loaded with cultural credentials. It’s also two hours of Lee Mack shouting and people putting on silly voices and falling over. I loved it.
Adapting a French classic into English comes with all sorts of issues. Do you stick to the period, or go for a ‘daring reimagining’? Will the spirit of the work be lost in translation? Will jokes from four centuries back still work? In this latest adaptation, director Sean Foley (The Ladykillers and the forthcoming film Mindhorn) has decided to split the difference, giving us a very funny version that’s set in Paris in the 1600s, but nods to its own artifice throughout. French expressions are littered throughout as punchlines (alongside French-sounding exclamations. Witness Lee Mack screaming ‘Shia LeBouef!” as his fingers are slammed in a piano lid).
But here I am using words like ‘artifice’ to describe a classic bit of slapstick, complete with outrageous wigs, pantomime sotto voices, audience interaction and some hilariously affected voices. Lee Mack makes a strong stage debut, and is allowed to work in his own style of stand-up throughout, while Gryff-Rhys Jones is fantastic as Harpagon. Prowling around the stage, rubbing his hands gleefully and cackling at the thought of money.
The production also boasts a fine supporting cast who are clearly having a blast. Ellie White (The Windsors) is a standout as Marrianne, the object of Harpagon senior and junior’s romantic intentions, with a genuinely hilarious ‘posh voice’ that had the audience in stitches as she describes being ‘the victim of a turrible shup wruck’, while Ryan Gage (The Hobbit) and Katy Wix (Not Going Out) manage to be arrogant dimwits who you still can’t help but love.
Great acting isn’t much use on its own though, so luckily the dialogue is wonderful. Ridiculous statements (“What are names, but words we use so we know who we’re talking about?”) and daft one liners (“You must conceal your true rank” spoken with a pronounced rhotacism) combine with sly asides (“I think you’ll find the Arc De Triomphe won’t be built for another 150 years sir”) propel a quick moving plot (“I’ve loved her since first I set eyes upon her. Yesterday morning”) that’s pure farce.
It’s a wonderful, light night out (or ‘the very essence of mordant wit’, if you prefer a classical interpretation), backed by fun performances. It may stray a little too close to pantomime for some, but if you don’t mind admitting that watching a man dressed as a washer woman shout “I’m definitely a woman!” is actually quite funny, head on down and be prepared to laugh like a drain. 4/5
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