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Simon Coates On ... The Misanthrope

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Simon Coates is about to return to Liverpool's Playhouse Theatre in Moliere's The Misanthrope. We talked to him about his love of Liverpool, the play and how old does not necessarily equal boring.

This is your third Moliere production at the Playhouse. What is it about these pieces that you enjoy?
Their sense of fun and mischief. It was an inspired idea of Gemma Bodinetz's to ask Roger McGough to translate Molière’s Tartuffe back in 2008 during Liverpool's tenure as the European City of Culture. Roger is perfect for Moliere - they share the same appetite for brilliant, witty, ingenious wordplay. It was a great success and Roger went on to translate The Hypochondriac which opened at Liverpool and then toured the UK with The English Touring Theatre as joint producers. We are now rehearsing The Misanthrope which will again tour with ETT this Spring.

The Playhouse has a great reputation. Is that a deciding factor too?

Yes. This is the 5th production I've done at the Playhouse and it's always great to come back. Gemma and Deborah Aydon have done superbly since they took over both the Playhouse and the Everyman. There's a real buzz going around about these theatres, not just in Liverpool but in London and throughout the country as well. Being able to fly the Liverpool flag as we tour the UK is great.

For a newcomer to the text, what's it about?
It's about a man, Alceste, who decides he's had enough of the two-faced hypocrisy he sees in polite society. He embarks on a crusade of only ever speaking the truth which, of course, lands him in some sticky situations.

What about the role you play? What attracted you?
I play his best friend, Philante. Molière often includes a character who is known to be reasonable and pragmatic, normally in order to highlight the degree to which the protagonist has become 'out of sorts'. It's the John Le Mesurier character in Dad's Army really - measured, urbane and polite. They are great fun to play.

Why have audiences embraced the previous two productions and how does The Misanthrope differ?

Well, a hypochondriac, or a man pretending to be deeply religious in order to sleep with another man's wife, are inherently funny characters in very funny situations. They are as funny to us today as they were in the 1660's. Throw in Roger McGough's dazzling language and you have the perfect recipe for mayhem and hilarity. The Misanthrope is slightly different in tone, particularly the ending, but still contains all the elements of the previous two productions.

Performers often mention that there is something special about being on stage in the North West. Do you find the audiences here receptive?
Yes, very. Liverpool audiences are fantastic. Roger's rhyming couplets caused delight wherever we went in the UK, but there's something special about speaking them to a Liverpool audience. It's almost as if he's on stage with us.

If you had to sell the idea of a Moliere production to a newcomer, how would you encourage them to come?

I'd encourage them to put aside any worries that it might be boring/confusing because it was written in the 17th Century. These plays are absolutely alive and full of fantastically vivid characters, in very funny situations. Come along and see it - you'll be amazed at how 'modern' it feels.

What are your plans when the run finishes?

Well, we are touring the UK until June, so it's a bit early to start thinking about it just yet. But I'd like to do some telly that films in or around London so that I can be at home for a while. Touring is great fun but it does become tiring, especially when you're playing a new city each week.

Simon Coates was speaking to Glenn Meads

The Misanthrope is at the Liverpool Playhouse from 15 February - 9 March.


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