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Misanthrope presented by Exchange Theatre | Review

Misanthrope Fanny Dulin (Arsinoe) Anoushka Rava (Celimene) Photo Anais Le Pape
Misanthrope Fanny Dulin (Arsinoe) Anoushka Rava (Celimene) Photo Anais Le Pape

The revitalization of Moliere’s Misanthrope is quite probably the most enjoyable production I have seen since moving to London last year and something I would consider a ‘must see’. It takes the original 17th Century work and places it in the unexpected setting of a modern newsroom, moving the social commentary from the falseness of a French societal court to the modern internet age.

And it works. Not a hundred percent of the time, but it works. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet with the juxtaposition of modern setting and traditional language working in a very similar way.

Of course, I can only speak for the English language production as a disappointingly mono-lingual person, but I would hope that the French version is as close a comparison as possible. That being said, the piece is in verse, so it could be that significant changes are made between the two to get the rhyme structure in place while keeping the meaning of each line as true as possible.

One of the highlights of Misanthrope for me was that for the most part, the delivery of the verse was as natural as if it were prose. The sing-song forcedness that can occur was nowhere to be seen, which I felt maintained the integrity of the characters while also keeping the beauty of the execution.

The staging uses a single set, split into two distinct areas and while there isn’t a great deal of change in the scenery, subtle differences are achieved with the use of props and other small but distinct visual clues. The staging is interesting in that there is a greater use of technology than in many pieces, even to the point where mobile phone camera casting is used. This has increased the ‘points of failure’ with one occasion in particular that called for a muttered “technology these days” from James Buttling. Of course, being a humorous piece, far from detracting from the audience enjoyment, it merely added another laugh to the scene.

The only element in which the advanced technological presence let the production down was that the main plot device was still a handwritten letter. It would have been more in keeping if a shared text message or a social media post could have served the same function.

Of course, there are scenes that aren’t humorous, and the overall message of the play is something we can all consider; the impact of instant access to news, the emptiness of much of what surrounds us, the ever-growing presence of cameras and weblinks and the falseness of many people’s portrayal of themselves – especially online.
The plot surrounding this is one of distrustful lovers, scandal and betrayal with the highs, lows and character interactions that can be associated with this.

The characters typically interact in a natural way for the events/settings of the production and the flow of the cast around the stage made the suspicions of Alceste understandable and allowed for a broader focus across the whole of the cast. There is a slight difference in interaction between the News Readers/Presenters and the other characters. Something I could understand being present in a working environment of that nature. Anoushka Rava’s Celimene, Fanny Dulin’s Eliante, David Furlong’s Alceste and Simeon Oakes’s Philinte make up the News Readers and James Buttling’s Clitandre, Samuel Arnold’s Acaste, Leo Elso’s Oronte and Fanny Dulin’s Arsinoe take the part of a variety of other characters associated with the environment in different ways.

The characters are all clearly defined and have their idiosyncrasies (as you would hope) and while all of the performers were dazzling in their own way and, while James Buttling’s performance stood out for me as his slightly unhinged portrayal of Clitandre saw the most ‘above and beyond’ direct audience interaction (to the point of clambering into the seated areas), there was a mix of more traditional scenes and audience immersion that involved many of the characters and, in an unforced way, gave the production an extra depth and the audience an extra element of engagement.

In some ways, it is hard to explain what made Misanthrope stand out from other performances of its type for me and I find myself coming back, time and time again, to the fact that I had a truly great time watching it. Not the most eloquent of descriptions but it’s not always easy to analyse what precise factor makes something such an enjoyable occasion.

Whatever it is, I feel that Misanthrope has it in droves. If you do go to see it and can pinpoint the magic a little better than I; I would be interested to find out what it was that did it for you.

5 Star Rating

Review by Damien Russell

Molière’s 17th-century masterpiece Le Misanthrope is transposed to a 21st century TV newsroom in MISANTHROPE directed by David Furlong, Off West Award Best Director nominee.

Performances will be staged in both English and French.

In an age where ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ make headlines in newspapers and on TV news, Exchange Theatre reimagines Moliere’s satire on the 17th-century French court, The Misanthrope, and sets it in a 21st century TV newsroom.

Costumed in modern dress and surrounded with high tech equipment this production makes relevant this enduring classic as it serves to explore the idea of gossip, innuendo and ultimately fake news. Here, Alceste who despises the attitudes of his time, preferring to avoid flattery or deceit, and tell the truth no matter what the consequences, is a handsome news anchor in love with Célimene, a bright but slightly vain socialite and hard-living gossip columnist. His search for genuineness against hypocrisy, special interests and treachery calls for a new London production in 2017.

Tue 19 June – Sat 7 July at 8pm
https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/

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