2013 Company Profiles
This season: Edward IV and James Tyrell in RICHARD III. Previously for SATTF: Murellus & Cinna the Poet in JULIUS CAESAR, Agrippa in ANTONY & CLEOPATRA, Lear's Fool in KING LEAR and Gaev in THE CHERRY ORCHARD.
The Misanthrope 2010
Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Simon Armstrong (Photos: Farrows Creative)
30 September - 23 October 2010
This production was SATTF's second collaboration with the Bristol Old Vic, playing again in the Theatre Royal.
Tony Harrison updated his famous 1973 version of Moliere's play to the present day.
Tony Harrison’s version of Le Misanthrope first exploded onto the English stage at the London Old Vic in February 1973. I saw it myself that summer and I have wanted to be a part of it – as actor or director – ever since.
In this country we have long struggled with Molière. His greatness is not disputed, his influence on British theatre (particularly on our Restoration playwrights) long recognised; but the transposition of the plays from French to English, and from one theatre tradition to another, has tended to produce stilted accuracy on the one hand, or the freest of theatrical adaptations on the other – like those by Miles Malleson produced here in the 1950s. For our theatre the extraordinary energy and compression of Molière’s rhyming verse has had to find a much more familiar and comfortable counterpart in expansive English prose.
Tony Harrison’s startling achievement is to restore the economy and verve of the rhyming couplet within a language that is both idiomatic and flexible – idiomatic enough to differentiate individual characters by their habits and rhythms of speech; flexible enough to span the wide arch of feeling that Molière achieved in his most humane and surprising masterpiece.
Tonight you will see a Misanthrope reimagined for 2010, yet at the same time truer to the means, character and spirit of the great French dramatist than any other English-speaking collaborator has achieved.
Alceste Simon Armstrong
Philinte Philip Buck
Oronte Byron Mondahl
Celimene Dorothea Myer-Bennett
Eliante Daisy Douglas
Clitandre Piers Wehner
Acaste Matt Barber
Waitress Emily Glenister
Academie Official & Dubois John McGrellis
Arsinoe Lucy Black
Director Andrew Hilton
Set & Costume Designer Tom Rogers
Costume Supervisor Jennie Falconer
Lighting Designer Tim Streader
Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Assistant Director Matt Grinter
Production Manager Mark Carey
Stage Manager Polly Meech
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Andy Guard
Wardrobe Assistant/Dresser Charlie Elmont
Set Construction Mike Phillips & Andy Powell
Set Painter Nick Levine
Abstract Painting Sara Easby
Photographic Portrait Magnus Hastings
Tailoring Terry Milton
Makeup Lynn Wilson
Hair Campbell Young
Poster/Flyer Design Document
Programme Designer Alan Coveney
Production Photographer Toby Farrow
11th October 2010
* * * *
In his hugely popular seasons of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, director Andrew Hilton has shown a rare knack for communicating a story. Here, in an exquisite modern-day staging of Molière‘s biting comedy, he is aided by Tony Harrison’s brilliant 1973 translation – updated to include references to Sarkozy, HRT, silicone implants and smartphones – and the Old Vic’s return to the thrust stage, reaching right into the stalls. Both embellish Hilton’s admirably clear approach to the text to enormous effect.
So too does Tom Rogers’s set design, a dreamy Parisian loft apartment that’s home to duplicitous social climber Célimène. It’s all 60s chic and giant windows looking over the city lights and sky; a vast, transparent space for social masks to be seen and peeled away in a denouement revealed here via emails.
Simon Armstrong delivers an Alceste in creased linen and jeans, savage with his words ("Jesus wept, it’s bloody rubbish!") but crumpling in horror as he observes what he calls the "pseudo-civil masquerade" of high society. Other delights in a strong cast include Lucy Black as a splendidly vicious Arsinoé, and Byron Mondahl as Oronte, with his terrible poems and impeccable political connections.
Hilton makes Molière look and feel contemporary, all surface and spin, and hovers over the details that emphasise this. There were a few opening night fluffs, and the specific lines to the audience ("Stay and watch the show," Alceste implores) feel almost superfluous in a production that already speaks so winningly to us. But everything else is spot on, terrifically watchable and charismatically done. Elisabeth Mahoney
12th October 2010
* * * *
Moliere’s grumpy truth-teller Alceste has been stomping the stage, pouring verbose scorn on sycophancy and mendacity, for over 340 years, but humanity has yet to produce a generation of a calibre he’d admire – nor one unable to spot the flaws in his loud protestations of frankness.
After the glitter of Martin Crimp’s modern version starring Keira Knightley last year, we return to poet Tony Harrison’s lithe and debonair 1973 adaptation, slyly updated with bloggers, HRT and mobile phones, and set in an airy Paris loft as stylish as the script. This Alceste, a successful writer, is suing his ex-agent for royalties, but his refusal to curry favour with the men who matter is doing him down, while his beloved Celimene’s willingness to curry with anything in trousers is driving him mad. Simon Armstrong’s craggy face crumbles a little at each new romantic, professional or philosophical disappointment, but this cliff is buttressed by a granite self-regard that even Celimene’s unworthiness, and his failure to hate her for it, cannot erode. His inconstant lady, Dorothea Myer-Bennett, stalks about like a bejewelled heron, garnering more sympathy than Celimene’s bitchy narcissist usually merits. And if the audience is left with the uneasy feeling that she’s playing us like she does her lovers, so much the better: empathy, as Alceste’s upright friend Philinte keeps trying to tell him, is much better for the liver than rage.
Alceste’s histrionics are always stiff competition for the cast’s assorted fops and flatterers, but Lucy Black as ghastly Arsinoe, whose so-called sincerity is even nastier than her white tights, and Byron Mondahl as influential doggerel-peddler Oronte, are particularly watchable, and director Andrew Hilton wisely gives his actors space to perform: he knows that even the proudest misanthrope is obsessed with others’ opinions of him, even if Alceste does not.
The Misanthrope is, in a sense, critic-proof, since the play boils down to the intriguing question of how much scorn can be poured before the pourer gets soaked. However elegantly Harrison filters Moliere’s couplets, bile burns, which may be why Armstrong keeps running his hands through his luxuriant hair: his palms are wet with something scarier than sweat. Nina Caplan
The Sunday Times
17th October 2010
* * * *
The dictionary says that a misanthrope is a hater of humankind who mistrusts and avoids people ("anthropos" is Greek for "man"). But the prefix "mis", meaning "bad", "faulty", "perverse", suggests that an anthropos himself could be faulty, even perverse: a misfit. That is how Simon Armstrong plays Molière’s Alceste: a petulant, conceited intellectual, self-exiled, self-admiring and, like most such people, deeply insecure. This is a highly strung but fiercely controlled performance. Armstrong’s Alceste has all Molière’s ruthless perceptions: the need to feel victimised; the need to give performances of himself, but really for himself; the need to be seen as an outcast; and a touch of the infantile. Philip Buck plays his friend, cool, kind and laid-back, Molière’s usual messenger of being sensible. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is Célimène, the woman Alceste thinks he loves: a calm, steely man-eater who likes to look fragile. Andrew Hilton’s production is a flawless piece of company acting. References to bloggers, emails and President Sarkozy suggest that Tony Harrison’s glittering modern version of 1973 has been updated a little, but I bet Molière would have loved it. John Peter