BWW REVIEW: Justin Fleming Adapts Moliere For A Modern Generation With THE MISANTHROPE
Friday 31st August 2018, 7:30pm, The Playhouse Sydney Opera House
Bell Shakespeare and Griffin Theatre Company have joined forces again to present Justin Fleming's latest adaptation of a Moliere play with a contemporary take on THE MISANTHROPE. Bright lights and bold new music come together with a passionate cast under Lee Lewis' direction to present the 17th century French comedy of manners for a 21st century Australian audience.
In adapting the work for a new age, Fleming retains the poetry of the piece whist playing around with the genders in the story, creating some strong female characters whilst still having an element of the old world absurdity of female devotion to a committed cad. Fleming flips the gender of protagonist and misanthrope Alceste (Danielle Cormack) to be a strong, seemingly confident woman with a devotion to the preening and posturing Cymbeline (formerly the female Celimene), a young pop icon with a hunger for attention from a bevy of admirers presented by an often barely clad Ben Gerrard. Rebecca Massey portrays Alceste's advisor Philippa (formerly the male Philinte) who tries to temper the critical Alceste whilst quietly holding a flame for Cymbeline's sister Eleanor (Eliante), captured with quiet devotion by Catherine Davies, who in turn appears to only have eyes for Alceste. With a degree of fluid sexuality, Cymbeline's admirers expressed on stage comprise a quartet of men of varying qualities. Poet Oronte (Hamish Michael) becomes musician Orton for Fleming's reinterpretation whilst Arsenio (Simon Burke) remains the jealous older man. Acaste and Clitandre are given modern makeovers as the bling laden Angus (Anthony Taufa) and pretentious hipster Cleveland (Hamish Michael) respectively.
With a backstory of Cymbeline being a socialite, social influencer and pop singer come model designer Dan Potra has set the work within a cluttered studio where Cymbeline seems to be filming a series of pop videos and capturing shots to satisfy his adoring fans on social media. Potra utilises a sleek styling to convey the range of characters, from a powerful pantsuit for the domineering Alceste whilst the questionably talented musican Orton bears a Taylor Swift tour shirt and jeans in a more casual expression. Cymbeline's efficient assistant and sister Eleanor is poured into pleather pants whilst his own devotion to curating his image is expressed with flamboyant confections and a considerable exposure of incredible abs.
Whilst the poetry is intriguing and clever, drawing on a range of rhymic styles and patterns to keep the ear engaged, the work does drag on a little and the contemporary expression can be jarring as more curated sounds blend with more ocker phrasing and accents. Max Lamber and Roger Lock's new music serves to reinforce Cynbeline's position as a new pop star whilst Matthew Marshall's lighting design does wander into overbearing at times with bright lights into the audience doing little to progress the plot but rather forming a distraction to the already detailed work.
The intimate cast deliver generally strong performances with a few stumbles on opening night which should hopefully settle with time. THE MISANTHROPE is an intriguing if slightly long exploration of views on social behaviour and the rights and wrongs of telling the blunt truth over saving face and feelings. It is also an interesting comment on contemporary culture of seeking validation from friends and strangers and the expectation that responses will always be nice and self-affirming. It awakens the idea of ensuring that behaviours aren't hypocritical and that actions are not at odds with words and warnings if we do strive for authenticity.
28 August - 28 September 2018