Monday, April 22, 2013

The Misanthrope Review

The Misanthrope
Oxford Playhouse, Oxford

As the last in a trilogy of Moliere plays that have been adapted and directed by Roger McGough and Gemma Bodinetz, The Misanthrope should not be missed. It opens with a masked ball, during which the guests pass secret letters between each other. This is an artificially polite world full of secrecy and deception that renowned poet Alceste (Colin Tierney) wants to disassociate himself from, as he tosses away his wig and mask. He announces to his reasonable friend, Philinte (Simon Coates), that he wants to be honest and frank with everyone. What follows is a series of rivalries and revelations that threatens to upset this "elegant" world.

What makes this production so hilarious is this witty adaptation of Moliere's play. Roger McGough has once again adapted the 12 syllable rhyming couplets, or Alexandrines, inherent in Moliere's plays and varied the verse forms to suit each character. Alceste for one is the only character to speak in plain verse. McCough also plays around with the words as characters slip up on rhyming words that do not make sense. Neil Cople for one has a hard time as the simpleton man servant, Du Blois, as he attempts to speak in verse. Whilst The Book of Mormon attempted to make dozens of puns, some of whom were repeated, The Misanthrope focuses on the dialogue, which results in some consistently fresh and witty puns.

Not only is this play witty but it is performed by a strong cast. Colin Tierney presents Alceste as a bitter and petty man who stands out for his plain speaking amongst the sycophants of Moliere's world. Scenes turn into a war of words as the rules of social intercourse are stripped away and characters spit acid at each other. At one point he makes sarcastic interjections as budding poet, Oronte, reads what is only an average poem.

Daniel Goode was flamboyant yet imperiously indignant as Oronte and his rendition of the poem was met with an appreciative applause from the audience. Together Goode, Leander Deeny as Clitandre, and George Potts as Acaste  can be seen as the perfect clones of what is perceived as a courtier in the world of The Misanthrope. They portrait extravagant yet gullible fops, as they try to court the other leading character of the play, Celimene. Zara Tempest-Walters as Celimene waltzes around these men with a show of flirtation teasing and gossip which hides a scheming, astute mind.

Elsewhere, Simon Coates is the voice of reason as Philinte, who advises Alceste to tread carefully, which the poet ignores. Harvey Virdi plays a pious, but hypocritical, Arsinoe, and a highlight is watching her and Celimene straining to be polite as they trade sweet-coated insults at each other.

The creative team have cleverly designed a set that shows a room with walls comprising of frames against some backdrops. The lighting allows the backdrops to change colour, which stylistically changes the settings, and clever use is made of the props. The outlandish 17th century costumes conform to the colour white, and Alceste's dissent is made even clearer when he changes to modern clothing by the end.

Although the production slows down occasionally, Roger McGough and the cast helps to make this adaptation of one of Moliere's treasured plays hilarious. I would recommend this over The Book of Mormon and say The Misanthrope is worth booking at a Top Price


  1. Disagree. I saw this on its tour in Truro, Hall for Cornwall. Moliere is so much better than this, it says in the prgramme the script focuses on language rather than character and plot, big mistake. Surely Moliere fits into a Commedia D'ell Arte bracket which is all about stock characters and social/political issues. For me the play hardly attacks the issues that had moliere shunned by lords, ladies, religion and medicine alike. The same verse that people seem to hold dear ahout this play is supposed to be the very thing the play was made to criticise. For the writer to hold dear to him the verse and to put literacy infront of drama, is the very thing the play was made to demonise! the production makes it look like alceste simply refused "to play ball" in a teenage fashioned strop. the production doesn't manage to convey the severity of alceste (who could be seen as an alter-ego for moliere, as he so often creates) and his dim view on the world, misanthrope is translated as "hater of humankind", they use this translation in the script but not in the character! the starting ball, which is included i can only presume because it was historically accurate to the style of the play rather than having an actual purpose. the masks are a historical inclusion that serve purpose, but they missed so many tricks. surely they could have satarised the dance at the start as another irrelevent social convention. some of the actors upstaged everyone else with there performances. Clitandre is a briliant character, his vivacity is relevent to the purpose of the play and very funny. the contextualisation of this character is good, including OMG which would have been blasphemic at the time of first performing. how can you including such modern conventions (indeed the end of the play is undeiniably modern) yet include such contanckerous drivel as the opening dance. they use letters written to each other in the opening dance that about 2 of them actually open and read, the rest just react shocked to it but havn't even looked at it! Semi-poor execution of a beautiful written script. Art is beautiful in the eyes of the beholder, but is beauty art?

  2. Thank you for replying to my review. I believe I understood the message the production was giving about the hypocrisy behind the mask of social etiquette. For instance, the fact that the characters are slipping up on the rhymes seemed to show how meaningless and frivolous the language they are speaking is.

    Then again I have only studied Tartuffe for A-Level, using Ranjit Bolt’s translation, and have only seen The Hypochondriac, which was adapted by Roger McGough as well. I assume you have seen plenty of productions of Moliere’s plays. Did you see the Damien Lewis version of The Misanthrope a few years ago?

    Have you thought about writing your own review? You seem to make a lot of good points that you could type up in your own blog.