Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Miser - Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

The Miser by Moliere
Adaptors/Translators: Robert Cogo-Fawcett & Braham Murray
Director: Helena Kaut-Howson
Reviewer: John Roberts

I have to say I thought the programming of Moliere was an interesting addition for this season at the Royal Exchange, I personally always found his plays a little distancing and not that gripping for a 20 something theatre goer but as always I am ready to be proven wrong, and I have to say Helena Kaut-Howson’s production has done just that!

Originally wrote in the late 17th century, telling the story of a money lender, whose two feisty and in love children, want to escape his penny pinching ways, this is a typical French comedy of manners and one that’s themes are still as strong and relevant nearly 400 years later. Robert Cogo-Fawcett & Braham Murray have adapted the original with flair and sensitivity, that bristles with comic timing and gives just enough edge to make it stand out from many other translations.

The first thing that strikes you upon entering the space is the set, Its lavish bleakness of white stained wood, pipes that drip water, a clever mix of old and new technologies which transpire as CCTV cameras that flit around focusing on the audience, brilliantly designed by Ashley Martin-Davis who has perhaps produced the best set on the Exchange stage that I have ever seen. Combine this with the amusing avant-garde mixture of 16th century styles with the cut and style of Vivian Westwood-esq costumes and you can see how the style of this production grabs your attention and makes you beg for more.

Helena Kaut-Howson’s directing choices are brave, but she also stays very close to the original form of Commedia Dell’Arte and that makes sure this production moves at great speed, and with immense physicality from all involved, and with some excellent attention to detail and audience participation you can’t help feel involved. A personal favourite being the beginning of Act 2 what a way to start!

Manchester favourite Derek Griffiths is back doing what he does best, making people laugh and his portrayal of Harpagon (the Miser) is full of gusto, menace and facial grimaces that can only bring smiles to those watching him, he has such an exuberant energy that you feel tired just watching him on stage. Following on in the endless energy stakes is Simon Gregor as La Flache, rolling and leaping around the stage with more energy than a 5 year old kid on tamazipan, and provides many moments of comic delight. Other performances of note are provided by Pepe Balderrama as Dame Claude, Danny Lee Wynter as Cleante.

However my concerns lie with two of the older members of the cast Tim Barlow (Signor Anselme) & Julian Chargrin (Jacques) who unfortunately just don’t cut the same mustard as the rest of the cast giving performances that sadly stick out like a sore thumb and feel more wooden than the flooring of the set.

Overall this is a stunning production that provides a perfect escape from the wet miserable weather of Manchester. You would be hard pushed to find a theatre that is producing a show with so much style, so much laughter and so much originality anywhere in the country at the moment.

Photos Jonathan Keenan
Runs until Sat 3rd October
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