Wednesday 26 October 2016

Theatre: Two spirited servings of classical fun

Emer O'Kelly

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

Impish romp: From left, Deborah Wiseman, Simon Toal and Conor Donelan in Moliere's The School for Wives. Photo: Al Craig.
Impish romp: From left, Deborah Wiseman, Simon Toal and Conor Donelan in Moliere's The School for Wives. Photo: Al Craig.

Peter Reid writes in his programme note for the AC Productions version of Moliere's The School for Wives that he didn't see the purpose of shifting the timeframe to a modern age. Well, hallelujah! The result is an impish romp overlying an undercurrent of vicious satire - just as Moliere intended.

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And by leaving the piece in the 17th century, with the hypocrisy of a middleaged man enjoying lustful society while planning to marry what would now be called an idiotic trophy wife, Reid gives us Moliere in all his timeless relevance. Mind you, the lascivious sugar daddies of the 21st century aren't often given a moral and romantic two fingers by their scheming "fiancées", such as Arnolphe receives from the unworldly Agnes whom he has kept in country seclusion throughout her childhood.

Nowadays there seems to be a serial supply of interchangeable orange-painted ankle-chained beauties queuing up to have their cosmetic surgery and their "meeja careers" funded. But then, they don't have the capacity to allow heart to rule head, which gives Moliere's Agnes her appeal even when she rather meanly turns the tables on the pompously idiotic Arnolphe.

Simon Toal plays Arnolphe with a bombastic vigour that never becomes tiresome, with Grace Fitzgerald as a spirited-but-innocent Agnes; and they both interplay effectively with Conor Donelan and Deborah Wiseman as the not-so-goofy peasant servitors. Killian Coyle manages to be lovelorn as well as funny as the love object Horace, and Colm O'Brien makes an effectively sniffy Chrysalde.

Reid's direction balances comedy with restraint to an excellent degree, in his own set design lit by Cathy O'Carroll. Costuming is impressionistic rather than detailed, but works well (with assistance from the Abbey Theatre wardrobe department.)

The School for Wives is at the New Theatre in Essex Street in Dublin.

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Director Stephanie Courtney has reversed genders for her Fortune's Fool open-air production of The Taming of the Shrew in Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. That has long lost any novelty as a device, to the point where it can seem tired and forced; but not this time.

This is a sprightly, energetic, and extremely accomplished presentation from a (mostly) young cast who have the inestimable talent of being able to project effortlessly in the (chilly) evening air while also managing to give the verse its correct cadences, as well as displaying an irresistible energy.

With a lavishly black-bearded James Jaggs as Katherine and a shapely Aoibheann McCann as Petruchio heading a largely splendid cast, Courtney sets the piece as a play-within-a-play in true Shakespearean style, being presented in the garden of a noblewoman who has come across a drunken tramp on her lawn and set him up as a long-lost husband. The entertainment is then presented by a company styling itself the "Relentlessly Senseless Shakespeare Company." It may be a bit pointless, but it's also fun. The "senseless" bit comes in with the addition of a bit of Beatles and Saturday Night Fever along the way, by the way.

Other particular credits in the large cast must go to Caoimhe Mulcahy's Tranio, Shane Casey's Baptista and Conor Kelly as Grumio.

Bring something to sit on; above all, bring as many heavy coats as you own. It gets perishing after two hours.

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