The Misanthrope 2010


Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Simon Armstrong         Photo © Farrows Creative

30 September - 23 October 2010 Bristol Old Vic Theatre Royal

Tony Harrison updated his famous 1973 version of Moliere's play for this, the second collaboration between Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and the Bristol Old Vic.

Cast

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

Production

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

Reviews

★★★★ The Guardian  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

★★★★ The Independent  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  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 

Director's Notes

   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.

Molière
   Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) was born in Paris in 1622, the son of one of Louis XIV’s eight valets de chambre tapissiers, responsible for the care of the king's furniture and upholstery. He was educated at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont where the education would have included performing scenes from Latin theatre and instruction in rhetoric.
   As the eldest son of the family, his father intended he should follow in his footsteps, but at the age of 21 Jean Baptiste determined to make a life in the theatre, an enthusiasm that had been innocently encouraged by his maternal grandfather’s own passion for playgoing.
   It was an extraordinary decision for a middle-class young man with good prospects. Theatre was no more respectable in seventeenth century Paris than it was in Shakespeare’s London, and may not have thrived at all had it not been for the patronage of the King. The Paris church routinely excommunicated professional actors and was to prove utterly unforgiving to Molière at the end of his life.
   But Jean Baptiste had fallen in love with the actress Madeleine Béjart. With her and about a dozen others, he formed the ‘Illustre Théâtre’ – soon changing his name to ‘Molière’, probably to spare his family embarrassment.
   The project was financially disastrous, earning Molière some periods in prison for debt, and in 1645 the rump of the company left the capital to work in the provinces, where they remained for over a decade. Out of the Paris spotlight, Molière began to write. His success as a dramatist and the maturing skills of the ensemble encouraged them to try their luck once more in Paris. Le Docteur Amoureux  so impressed the King and Court that the company was granted use of one of Paris’ best theatres and the title of the ‘Troupe de Monsieur’ (‘Monsieur’ being the King’s brother, the duc d’Orléans).
   During the next thirteen years the company worked feverishly to become the most respected in France, to be eventually reformed as the Comédie Française. Molière himself wrote, directed, and often starred in their work. His satires made many enemies and suffered censure and bannings – the fate of Le Tartuffe, his attack on religious hypocrisy, the most famous example - but the company was protected by royal patronage from any more serious consequences.
   On February 17, 1673, the exhausted Molière suffered a haemorrhage while playing the role of the hypochondriac Argan in Le Malade Imaginaire. He died later that night at his home on the Rue Richelieu. The local priests refused to take his confession, and forbade his burial in holy ground. The King, however, interceded and under the cover of darkness he was buried in the Cemetery Saint Joseph.
   He left a large body of classic comedy, including Précieuses Ridicules, Sganarelle, L’Ecole des Maris, L’Ecole des Femmes, Dom Juan, Le Médecin Malgré Lui, Amphitryon, L’Avare, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Les Femmes Savantes - and Le Misanthrope which he wrote at the height of his powers in 1666.

Tony Harrison
   Tony Harrison was born in Leeds in 1937. His first collection of poems, The Loiners, was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1972. In 1982 his version of Aeschylus’s Oresteia won the European Poetry Translation Prize, and he was President of the Classical Association in 1987-88. The Gaze of the Gorgon has won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry and The Shadow of Hiroshima and other Film Poems the William Heinemann Prize.
   Other collections of poems and translations include: Palladas:Poems; From ‘The School of Eloquence’ and Other Poems; Continuous; A Kumquat for John Keats; U.S.Martial; Selected Poems; The Fire Gap; V; V and Other Poems; A Cold Coming; Laureate’s Block and Other Poems; and Under the Clock. His Collected Poems was published by Penguin in 2007.
   He has written for the National Theatre, the New York Metropolitan Opera, BBC Television and Channel Four. His Dramatic Verse 1973 - 1985 includes verse drama, opera librettos and music theatre, and contains the texts of The Misanthrope, Phaedra Britannica, Bow Down, The Bartered Bride, The Oresteia, Yan Tan Tethera, The Big H and Medea: A Sex-War Opera.
   The Mysteries, his adaptation of the English Mystery Plays, was premiered at the National Theatre in 1985 and revived as the NT’s contribution to the Millennium Celebrations. The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, which incorporates the remains of Sophocles’ satyr play, The Ichneutae, was first performed in the ancient stadium of Delphi in 1988, and opened at the National Theatre in 1990. Faber published his anti-nuclear reworking of the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, The Common Chorus, in 1992 and Square Rounds opened at the National in the same year, to be followed by The Prince’s Play, an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Le Roi S’Amuse, and Fram. Poetry or Bust premiered at Salt’s Mill, Saltaire, in 1993. In 1995 The Kaisers of Carnuntum and The Labourers of Herakles, played in ancient sites in Carnuntum (on the Danube between Vienna and Bratislava) and Delphi respectively. For the RSC he wrote Hecuba, which he also directed in  Washington, New York and Delphi. He directed Square Rounds in Russian at the Tanganka Theatre, Moscow, in 2007.
   His television and film work includes: Arctic Paradise; the music-drama, The Big H; Channel Four’s film of his poem V (1987 Royal Television Society Award); the BBC series In Loving Memory; and the film/poems The Blasphemer’s Banquet, The Gaze of the Gorgon, Black Daisies for the Bride (1994 Prix Italia), A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan, and The Shadow of Hiroshima, all of which he wrote and directed. His feature film, Prometheus (which he also wrote and directed), was premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in August 1998 and went on general release in 1999. In 2002 he wrote Crossings, a sequel to Auden & Britten’s 1930s Nightmail, for the South Bank Show.
   He was the recipient of the Northern Rock Foundation’s Writer’s Award in 2004 and the Wilfred Owen Award for Poetry in 2007.

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