Misanthrope at Camden People’s Theatre
French playwright, poet and actor Molière was most well known for his comedies, farces and tragicomedies, and widely recognised as one of the greatest writers of French literature.
The off-West End production of Le Misanthrope by Exchange Theatre takes Molière’s play, placing it into a very modern and current setting: a newsroom in an urban city. Ambulance sirens can be overheard through the rather thin walls of Camden People’s Theatre, where audiences are not always able to understand the script, but it adds an authenticity to the city location of the show.
The flirtatious Célimène (Anoushka Rava) and controlling Alceste (director David Furlong) attempt to have a relationship away from the prying eyes of social media. Alceste wants to do away with humankind, exclaiming early on that “Mankind has grown so base, I mean to break with the whole human race’. His aversion to society and the ways in which people govern themselves is respectable but essentially naive. In an effort to command and control Célimène, Alceste drives her farther away, causing rifts in their relationship. Rava is a natural in the role, while Furlong’s portrayal presents the deeply troubled and paranoid protagonist in a naturalistic light.
His striving for honesty and dislike of social conventions puts Alceste in trouble early on, when a lawsuit is charged against him for insulting the love sonnets of Oronte – hilariously presented here as a famous musician by Leo Elso strumming on a pink ukulele. Furlong uses this scene amusingly, asking an unsuspecting audience member to think of a song from their teenage years, but she cannot think of one so this reviewer helpfully quips: “Truly Madly Deeply” – to which Alceste starts singing, much to the audience’s pleasure.
The omission of Basque and Du Bois, Célimène and Alceste’s manservants, does not impair the production. Clitandre (James Buttling) and Acaste (Samuel Arnold) – Célimène’s would-be lovers – don’t feel wholly necessary either, though they are original characters from Molière’s play. Buttling is especially eccentric and over-the-top, displaying Clitandre’s motives in a mad and unnerving manner where theatregoers can hear him grinding his teeth. In a particularly awkward but funny scene, Buttling and Arnold lift weights topless, drinking a protein shake and putting cream on with strong sexual innuendos.
Célimène’s prudish cousin Éliante (Fanny Dulin) is the balanced mix of modesty and abiding by societal conventions, a good match with Philinte (Simeon Oakes), who only has Alceste’s best interests at heart. Dulin really comes into her own when performing as Arsinoé, the judgemental and pseudo-moralistic older woman, all in red and with a fancy headdress, cattily arguing with Célimène.
At a time of fake news and “alternative facts”, Furlong imaginatively adapts this 17th-century tragicomedy, where Twitter feeds and news updates of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un onscreen are juxtaposed with Molière’s verse, producing a play that captures the essence and intents of the playwright’s writing with a quirky modern twist.
Photo: Anaïs Le Pape
Misanthrope is at Camden People’s Theatre from 19th June until 7th July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.