David Furlong directs The/Le Misanthrope, a modern re-imagining of the 1666 Molière classic that will be performed alternately in English and the original French over the coming four weeks. Though conceptually the piece has potential, and the production is undoubtedly well-acted, in reality it is a little clunk. What could have been a sharp satire unfortunately doesn’t quite translate.
The production attempts to highlight similarities between the ubiquitous hypocrisy and superficiality Moliere observed in 17th century society with that of the politics and social interactions of our present day. In the current political climate, with recent elections in both Britain and France and the oft-parodied “fake news” sensation, this message is undeniably relevant. As Furlong puts it, “For our time of ‘alternative facts’, [the Misanthrope] finds unanticipated echo in the world today… It’s Molière against fake news!”
Le Misanthrope tells the story of Alceste (played by Furlong), a man who deplores the superficiality of his contemporaries. To society’s revulsion, he rejects le politesse, refusing to falsely flatter or behave sycophantically towards his peers. Yet, paradoxically, he is in love with a woman who epitomises everything he hates: the fickle, frivolous Celimene (Anouska Ravanshad). In this adaptation, this story plays out in the context of an alcoholic media industry. Alceste refuses to compliment a popular musician (Palmyre Ligue) and Celimene is the host of a chat show.
The central issue in this instance is the use the original text. An adapted, witty, modern script could have transformed this production: contemporary references could have been interwoven seamlessly, scenes edited more effectively, characters developed more relevantly. Moliere satirises social niceties, with the implication that these little white lies in personal interactions are a symptom of a dishonest and corrupt society. Yet in this adaptation, the political resonance in 2017 was presented crudely through a long reel of news clips featuring Donald Trump and Theresa May.
Despite this, the actors’ performances are able to elevate the production. The cast of six bilingual actors depict their characters convincingly and are able to animate the long scenes. Furlong deserves special mention for his performance – he communicates Alceste’s ideology eloquently and with great conviction. Luca Fontaine also provides some humour in his entertaining performance of the conceited musician who cannot handle Alceste’s critiques.
This is an ambitious project and should certainly be commended as an idea and for its engaging performances that could have come alive with a modernised script.
The Misanthrope is playing at the Drayton Arms in both English and French until July 8.