Wednesday, 15 March 2017
Review The Miser
Adapted by Sean Foley and Phil Porter
The Play What Molière Wrote
Apparently this is a free adaptation of the original 17th century French classic The Miser. We're tempted to say so free, all the gags are in the public domain - boom, boom!
We're also tempted to say this may turn out to be a Marmite play - oh, if only we were sponsored! - but that would be a terrible, pretentious pun on the ancient Latin source of The Miser. It's called La Marmite in French - boom, boom!
But it would be true to say those in the market for gag-driven sketch comedy panto, kept in Molière's time, may well have an appetite for this version directed by Sean Foley. Even if it has only a few hints about the imprint of the knife edge, which should press on the tender soles of the dramatis personae.
That's not to BELLOW VERY LOUDLY and all at the same pace that, amidst a theatrical rugby scrum of Molière, sub-Mel Brookes-esque, Carry On, panto, Eric and Ernie, Airplane and 1970s' style The Three Musketeers (or is it Cyrano De Bergerac?), there aren't glimpses of what this production and script could have been.
This is mainly centred on Griff Rhys Jones as Harpagon, an avaricious, paranoid goggle-eyed Dad, a momento mori of the original text, and, eventually, Matthew Horne, pursuing his daughter, as the ardent suitor-in-disguise Valère.
Stand-up and sitcom star, Lee Mack, certainly also has the wit, timing (and projection) of a stage actor, but needs more than the one note part of put-upon Man Friday servant, Maître Jacques as portrayed in this production. That's apart from the notes he strikes on the harpsichord - boom, boom!
No, no, we take it all back - it reminds us most of all of Start The Revolution Without Me. Yes, yes, it may be anachronistic (Moliere pre-dated the French Revolution by over a century) but we're taking our cue from at least one of the gags in the current production of The Miser. And Lord, how we laughed at Americans Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder back in 1970 when TLT's now pimped up bagnole was still an Austin Morris!
At the Garrick Theatre, the momentum of the plot is all but drowned as it's asset-stripped by le déluge of jokes, ad libs and pseudo ad libs, at a frantic pace. In this "your money or Marianne" gagfest, the "I'll take the money" joke was one of the few panto gags that wasn't milked for laughs, even if it partly sums up the play.
Marianne (Ellie White), by the way, is not an anachronistic reference to the French state but Harpagon's young victim in the marriage stakes. Her true love, his son Cléante (a ribbons and bows Ryan Gage almost in Grayson Perry mode) is foisted on a more lucrative widow, while his daughter Elise (Katy Wix) is offered as the prospective "free of charge" dowerless bride of a pensioner.
That's also not to say the breaking of the fourth wall, theatrical in-jokes, music hall/vaudeville interaction with the audience and songs weren't part of 17th century stage farce.
But even Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman in The Producers and Young Frankenstein have a certain pathos and Molière's satire on archetypal money grabbing and the shackles of the dowry, which can surely be translated into contemporary terms, is blunted by standard austerity and banking stand-up circuit gags.
At the same time, we did crack a smile every now and then, were very taken with Alice Power's handsome 17th Century Parisian courtyard and hallway set and her styling of Harpagon.
Indeed we don't mind anybody taking a liberté with an out-of-copyright text but the problem is the égalité of a world where an old miser doesn't seem more lunatic than anyone else in the play.
If you raised anything more than a weak smile at this gag-driven review, this play, adapted by Foley and Phil Porter, may be for you. We award a-pot-of-gold amber light for an energetic mishmash of The Miser as corny as the stash of jokes kept under (alleged) tightwad Ernie Wise's (hey, we're managing almost to end seamlessly with a French word!) toupée - boom, boom!