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Image: Exchange Theatre
In a time of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news', Misanthrope finds unanticipated echoes in the world today.
Alceste, the most loyal man in the world, lacks only one virtue: indulgence for other's behaviours.
His search for genuineness against hypocrisy, special interests and treachery calls for a new London production in 2017.
With his unique touch, Off West End Best Director nominee David Furlong returns to direct, fresh from his stint at the Royal Opera House.
Exchange Theatre returns to the Drayton Arms Theatre with Misanthrope, by Moliere, as part of their yearly Bastille Festival - a celebration of French theatre, performed in English and French.
English Performances: (June 13th – 17th, 26th – 29th and July 7th and 8th)
French Performance: (June 20th – 24th, 30th and July 1st and 4th – 6th)
Almost certainly his best-known play, it satirises the social conventions of the time it was written, particularly targeting the hypocritical ways of the nobility, as well as highlighting the flaws of human beings in general.
In this production, which plays as part of Exchange Theatre's annual Bastille Festival, the play gets an airing in both English and French, with the cast having to undergo what must be a difficult transition, requiring them to effortlessly move from one language to another at different performances.
That might not be quite as taxing as it might sound, though, because all the cast here are admirably bilingual and thus have the necessary skills, as well the undoubted talent, to pull of this linguistic feat.
Nevertheless, there were odd moments when I detected slight hesitations in the dialogue where one could perceive a brain wondering just which language it was working in.
A colleague from another publication assured me at the interval that the translation from French to English was commendably up-to-scratch - I'm afraid I have to admit that I've never read the play in its native language because my French is about on the same level as that of a stage mouse (not that I have ever seen any at the Drayton Arms Theatre, I hasten to add).
But here you have the opportunity to appreciate the work either in its original glory performed in its native language or in the English translation - check-out the schedule for the days when each version is running.
The play itself centres on Alceste who despises the attitudes of his time, preferring to avoid flattery or deceit, and tell the truth no matter what the consequences.
For example, when a poet called Oronte seeks Alceste's opinions about one of his sonnets, Alceste cannot resist making plain his views about the poor quality of the verse.
And, even though he claims his heart is devoted to his lover, Célimène, he cannot hold back from revealing her flaws as well.
Moreover, Alceste despises human beings in general (hence the title), saying at one juncture in the play: "All humans are detestable".
Casting himself in the lead role, director David Furlong transfers the action here away from the plague-ridden times of the seventeenth century to the fake-news dominated era of the present day.
Modern dress is, thus, the order of the day and the setting is a large (unnamed) news or media organisation, and scenes inventively become TV chat shows, news reports and panel discussions in a sound studio.
TV monitors adorn the set providing a plethora of information including text messages exchanged between characters, numerous video clips and titles of reports.
David Furlong successfully reframes the play to a modern setting and simultaneously connects the topically relevant issues of modern society, with Donald Trump getting even more air time in the news reports (referencing 'fake news') along with (perhaps inevitably) Brexit and the referendum campaign (alluding to dubious political claims and the like).
Mr Furlong is aided here of course by the nature of our times and so his choice of setting proves both aptly relevant and accessible, as well as interestingly provocative.
However, the pacing of the piece is much less successful - in particular, the video news items are overly long and some of the musical interludes are similarly extended beyond what seems either necessary or appropriate, and some of the business is similarly unwelcomely stretched.
And though there's considerable acting talent on display, some of the characterisations are "too, too" as an American friend often says, being excessively and inexplicable raucous at times, even allowing for the farcical nature of the piece.
Though the concept of being truthful no matter what the cost may still be justifiably attractive - even if some may view the idea as dogmatically naive - Molière's proposition is certainly still worthy of consideration in our modern, technological era and, indeed, may be the most important issue we have to grapple with as the huge amount of data traversing the internet requires us to determine truth from propaganda or simple fiction.
But even if there's considerable appeal in the setting and technical aspects of this production (and in Molière's play itself) it never takes us beyond the realms of rather middling farce.
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