by Roger McGough after Molière.
Tour to 1 June 2013.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 April at Oxford Playhouse.
Fun time with rhyme, almost every line fine, and pointing-up morals through some fine verbal quarrels.
In his third, freest to date, Molière adaptation for Liverpool Playhouse (touring this production with English Touring Theatre), Roger McGough takes on the author’s verse, deliberately making rhyme the speech of style-conscious fashionistas, who combine flattery to the face with sniping behind the back.
The plain-speaking Alceste makes them his enemies, while his avoidance of superficial sophistication takes the form of forswearing rhyme, even as his servant Dubois keeps attempting to force his own utterances towards it.
McGough, director Gemma Bodinetz, her cast, and the audience have great fun with all this, including references to his previous translations. McGough can sneak a rhyme up on you, helped by willingness to stretch or compress the verse lines considerably, a generous ration of internal rhymes in a line, deliberately awkward rhymes (“forethought” rhyming aurally with itself) and all-round ingenuity.
Molière’s often updated, but this is 17th-century, exaggerated to the point of artificiality, with white clothing including frills and pockets and gold sun-masks referring to ‘sun king’ Louis XVI, with his demands on courtiers (one has all day to waste, so long as he’s in attendance when the king goes to bed). Golden grilling, adorned with sun-king and other motifs, surround the action in Michael Taylor’s set, often backed by strong colours from Paul Keagan’s lighting, which also creates the brightness of the sun-king’s place-in-the-sun notables. Throughout, Colin Tierney’s commanding Alceste, contemptuous with near-spitting fury, steadily moves towards plainer clothing before finally making his escape.
Yet the verbal decoration can become remorseless, leaving the desire for a few ordinary things to be said. And, while Alceste is supposedly besotted with the false-speaking Célimène, the women are more limited in expression – though her verbal spat with the older Arsinoé is a fine extended combat.
There’s unusually strong, pointed comedy in the foolish aristos from Leander Deeny, George Potts and especially Daniel Goode as a talentless, socially influential poet; it’s not easy keeping comic precision in such a display of extravagance. Both Simon Coates’ skill with Philinte’s lines, and Bodinetz’s scrupulousness as director, ensure this easily tedious man of moderation is both heartfelt and comic.
Dubois: Neil Caple.
Philinte: Simon Coates.
Clitandre: Leander Deeny.
Oronte: Daniel Goode.
Eliante: Alison Pargetter.
Acaste: George Potts.
Célimène: Zara Tempest-Walters.
Alceste: Colin Tierney.
Arsinoé: Harvey Virdi.
Director: Gemma Bodinetz.
Designer: Michael Taylor.
Lighting: Paul Keagan.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Composer: Peter Coyte.
Choreographer: Charlotte Broom.
Assistant director: Matthew Xia.
9-13 Apr Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm) Captioned Wed Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
16-20 Apr 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Hall for Cornwall Truro 01872 262466 www.hallforcornwall.co.uk
23-27 Apr 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm) Captioned Wed Northcott Theatre Exeter 01392 493493 www.exeternorthcott.co.uk
30 Apr-4 May 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Brighton 08448 717650 www.atgtickets.com/brighton
7-11 May 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 3pm Audio-described Sat 3pm (+ Touch Tour 2.15pm); BSL Signed Thu Nuffield Theatre Southampton 023 8067 1771 www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk
14-18 May Tue 7pm Wed-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Captioned Sat 2.30pm New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich 01473 295900 www.wolseytheatre.co.uk
21-26 May 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm Sat 2.30pm York Theatre Royal 01904 623568 www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
28 May-1 June Tue-Wed 7.30pm; Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk