Drayton Arms Theatre 13 June – 8 July. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Exchange Theatre’s production of Molière’s The Misanthrope swaps the salons of 17th century France for a modern-day TV newsroom. Presenter Alceste (director David Furlong), sick of the hypocrisy he sees around him, vows to tell the brutal truth to those around him, much to the horror of his colleague Philinte (Simeon Oakes). This leads to a quarrel with the egotistical and untalented poet Oronte (Palmyre Ligué) which ends up in court. Meanwhile his lover and star presenter Celimene (Anoushka Ravanshad) is enjoying her youth, and toys with most of the men around her.
Setting the play in the world of media, with characters sharing gossip on social media and clips of Trump, Le Pen and Farage spouting soundbites onscreen, works well, with radio panel shows and late-night chat shows replacing the gossipy salons of the original and showing that society hasn’t really moved on. There is no attempt to modernise the courtly language, making the characters feel deeply rooted in the past, however modern their surroundings and media savviness. The game cast do well with the sometimes-clunky dialogue, and give committed and energetic performances. The production starts promisingly, with some fun audience interaction, but it soon becomes clear that the rhythmic delivery of lines in the initial argument isn’t a one-off for comic effect, but continues throughout the play. The stressing of EVERY rhyming word wears thin very quickly, and in some scenes the dumpty dumpty dumpty DUM, dumpty, dumpty, dumpty DUM is almost soporific. The play runs alternately in French and English, so perhaps in French this rhythm might work?
There are a lot of sequences that could be cut to shorten the running time – an interminably long scene where the newsroom staff move around to 9 to 5 being a prime option. Making the sycophantic courtiers coke snorting reporters works well until they begin inexplicably bellowing at each other in a particularly ill-judged scene. Oronte as a media whore wannabe rapper is a fine idea, with some great comedy coming from Ligué’s over the top armography, but this doesn’t carry through to the second act, with each character’s reaction to revelations of Celimene’s feelings muted and token. Unfortunately, the play runs out of steam completely in the second act, saved only by the final musical number, which makes more emotional impact than the previous 40 minutes.
A brave but flawed attempt at modern Molière, which somehow feels more traditional than period productions.