Rychard Carrington reports on Le Misanthrope at Cambridge Arts Theatre, 26 March 2013

Le Misanthrope
Cambridge Arts Theatre


I hadn't been to the theatre for years; so it was lovely to be reminded of just what a treat such a visit is. The combination of comfort, passivity and visual entertainment might seem familiar from television viewing, but not only the sense of an outing but also the sense of engaging with a live performance renders the experience far, far preferable; even if, like me, you have to endure the misfortune of sitting behind a tall man with a large head.


The Cambridge Arts Theatre boasts opulence that pleases, rather than an excess of it that intimidates. On Tuesday 26 March and for four subsequent nights it could also boast a good play. This was not quite  Le Misanthrope by seventeenth-century French master of comic drama Moliere, but Le Misanthrope by Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough 'after Moliere'. Quite how it differs from the more strictly Molierean version I do not know.


What McGough's version definitely is is a tour de force of rhyme. All the characters, apart from Alceste, the misanthrope of the title, speak exclusively in rhyming couplets. The exhilaration of hearing the contrivance being maintained effectively for the duration of a whole play would have justified the ticket price in itslelf.


The theme is familiar yet always pertinent: frankness versus social falsity. Alceste (played by Colin Tierney) has had enough of the hypocrisy of fashionable society. He assumes a new strategy of blunt honesty, and we witness how he fares.


It is the context of the misanthrope's rebellion, rather than his own principles, which determines most of the character of the English Touring Theatre's production, directed by Gemma Bodinetz. In other words, the audience vicariously enjoys a diegetic opulence which compliments the opulence of the overall theatre-visiting occasion. The set has a ballroom feel, the costumes are extravagantly elegant, and in between the rhyme-driven dialogues are interludes of masked-ball-style ritual dancing. All pleasingly sumptuous.


Thus the misanthrope's protest uiltimately provides more titillation than bite. This is fine by me: I didn't come to the theatre to be bitten, thanks very much. In fact I'm rather looking forward to going to the theatre again. I must make more of a habit of it. Well played, all concerned.


Writer: Rychard Carrington  


[photo: Zara Tempest-Walters as Celimene and Colin Tierney as Alceste]