After their earlier collaborations on Tartuffe and The HypochondriacRoger McGough and the English Touring Theatre complete a Moliere trilogy of sorts with this adaptation of The Misanthrope, arguably Moliere’s best-known work.
In his programme notes McGough suggests parallels between the “elitism, litigation and deceit” of the seventeenth century Paris of Moliere’s original piece and the modern world of today. I’m not sure that really comes through in his text but there is one glaring similarity between Moliere’s pampered and preening poseurs and a certain sub-set of modern British society; shallow characters with too much time on their hands, who have little better to do than sit around gossiping, manipulating and back-stabbing. These vacuous empty vessels are surely only one can of spray tan away from an episode of The Only Way is Essex.
Indeed, with a couple of notable exceptions, a more hateful, self-absorbed, egocentric bunch of people you couldn’t hope to meet. Their petty problems and the plot, such as it is, would, through traditional storytelling techniques, be very unlikely to hold the attention for two hours.
However, plot and character are almost totally eclipsed by the trickery, vibrancy and wit of McGough’s adaptation. Written largely in verse, the script is a wonderful blend of deceptively clever word play and brazenly awful punnery. Certain liberties are taken with the original structure in order that the steady rhythm of the verse doesn’t become monotonous, but surely only the most ardent Moliere purists are likely to have a problem with that.
It is impossible to pick a standout from the cast, they all have their moment to shine and what is abundantly clear is the sheer amount of fun they are having as they prance about the stage. They are not let down by Michael Taylor’s design and between them Peter Coyte (composer) and Charlotte Broom (choreographer) are still able to create pockets of palpable eeriness and sensuality when there really shouldn’t be a place for them amid all the flouncing and foppery.
This production doesn’t really give any fresh insight in to the nature of human behaviour or shine a light on modern society but, and it is a big but, it is tremendously enjoyable.
The Misanthrope runs at York Theatre Royal until 25 May. For further information visit www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk