Tuesday 6 December 2016

A masterpiece of comedy dusted off for our century

Moilere's classic satire stands up well in a new version adapted by Peter Reid

Emer O'Kelly

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

Sorcha Furlong plays Celimene in Moliere's 'The Misanthrope' at the New Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Al Craig
Sorcha Furlong plays Celimene in Moliere's 'The Misanthrope' at the New Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Al Craig

Throw out all the minor characters, also get rid of a fairly major one, and combine two other major characters into a rather different single one; you'd expect such games-playing to create a monstrously insulting parody of a classic. But when you've clearly got respect for the spirit of the original, a bunch of good actors and the games are dictated by the limitations of a stretched budget rather than directorial ego, it can work.

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And in the case of Peter Reid's adaptation (he calls it a "version") of Moliere's The Misanthrope (an AC production at the New Theatre in Dublin) it certainly works: close to brilliantly.

The play is arguably even more savage than the author's great anti-religious satire Tartuffe: to be honest and principled, it claims, is so far at odds with society's mores that it gets a man labelled a misanthrope, and can also get him hauled into court for stepping out of line.

Alceste, the misanthrope of the title, is helplessly in love with Celimene, a woman who embodies all the qualities he deplores. And because of those deplorable qualities, she not only leads him by the nose, but she is also adored and courted by every man she meets, from the worthy Philinte through the lovelorn (and rotten) poet Oronte. Cue a mayhem of misunderstandings, deceits, letters exchanged, letters hidden and letters undelivered, as well as a sonnet of dubious quality used in the magistrate's court to prove poor Alceste unfit for polite society due to his freely expressed opinion that IT is what is not fit for society.

Wonderfully comic though it is, The Misanthrope doesn't exactly end happily, which is what gives it its viciously satirical edge.

Celimene discovers that she does indeed love Alceste, but has no intention of giving up town life for him; and he leaves alone for his self-imposed country exile. But at least good-hearted, sensible Philinte comes well out of things, since he is accepted by Celimene's cousin Eliante (the only person around with a tittle of sense.)

Reid has combined two other comic suitors from the original into a new character, a supposed Italian parvenu, Giovanni, whose foreign extravagances take him far with "the ladies" until he is discovered to be merely a valet masquerading as a gentleman and gets sent off with his tail between his legs (a show-stealing performance from Matthew O'Brien).

But under Reid's direction, (he also designs) everyone succeeds with aplomb, Paul Kealyn as an endearingly ponderous Alceste, Sorcha Furlong as Celimene, Bern Deegan as Oronte, Grace Fitzgerald as Eliante and Matt Ryan as Philinte.

It's all satisfyingly comic stuff..... with a punch.

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