THEATRE REVIEW: The Misanthrope, Liverpool Playhouse
MISANTHROPIC Alceste may listen to praise with one ear cocked for false flattery but, judging by the response to this new production, sincere approval is something he’ll just have to get used to.
There was a certain risk factor in Roger McGough and Playhouse artistic director Gemma Bodinetz teaming up for a third Molière adaptation after the resounding success of both Tartuffe and The Hyperchondriac but it was a gamble that has certainly paid off.
This is despite the fact, or perhaps because of it, The Misanthrope is quite a different play to its two predecessors.
Instead of a raucous door swinging farce, this comedy of manners has a subtler sense of humour and a mood that occasionally veers into sadness.
But there are still laughs aplenty, both in McGough’s pun-packed script, filled with Frenchisms (“not perhaps your tasse de thé”) and Allo Allo-style gags, and in Bodinetz’s witty directing – the two are perfectly balanced.
Disdainful of the hypocrisy of upper class society, where men make a great show of friendship while criticising each other as soon as their backs are turned, Alceste (Colin Tierney) abandons the flowery verse of those around him and commits to only speaking his true mind – in prose.
The production fizzes with fun – from the prepostrous costumes to the mocking charm of love-interest Célimène (Zara Tempest-Walters) to the appearance of a topiary camel and a pair of lapdogs.
Even the usually sober ending, which McGough leaves intact, is given a cheeky twist as Alceste prepares to face the real world away from the protective salons of high society.
The rot that he sees enveloping his peers is reflected in Michael Taylor’s set – a Versailles-style gold drawing room where black dirt or mould appears to be creeping up the walls.
Although far simpler than his last design for the Playhouse – the award-winning crooked townhouse for The Ladykillers – Taylor’s ingenuity and imagination continue to stand out.
Tierney, last seen as a toe-curlingly slippery Tartuffe, is a rather sympathetic Alceste, more of a mischief maker than a moral warrior.
The entire cast is superb, even the smallest roles are played to their fullest potential – among them Liverpool actor Neil Caple as the manservant Dubois struggling to speak in verse, Alison Pargeter as the sweet-natured doll-sized Eliante.
And there’s simply no forgetting the antics of the ridiculous powdered suitors Clitandre (Leander Deeny) and Acaste (George Potts) – who would make a fine pair of pantomime dames if they were ever to step outside the 17th century.