Camden People’s Theatre
Reviewed – 21st June 2018
“troubled by needless montage sequences and audience participation that add little to proceedings”
In a time in which news coverage surrounding ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, Moliere’s Le Misanthrope holds an obvious appeal. The desire of a single person to speak truth in an age in which lies are dominant burns as brightly as when written. Revived here at the Camden People’s Theatre, the transference of the play to a modern newsroom both aids and restricts the play’s appeal.
Relocated to the modern day, we follow Alceste, a popular news anchor. He despises the flattery in society, and prefers to speak bluntly. However, he is in love Celeste, who uses her fame to spread as much gossip as possible. Alceste’s journey to win his love and correct the society around him will see him very much swimming against the tide.
The script itself is well adapted, performed through rhyming couplets that lend the dialogue a natural rhythm. Interestingly, the company are performing the show alternatively across the run in both English and French. It is striking to see how relevant Moliere proves to be to today’s world, with links to the Donald Trumps’ and the Loose Women of the world coming all too easily.
Alongside playing Alceste, star David Furlong also directs the play. He is complimented by a fascinating video design that links the play to social media. While generally smooth, it is a shame that the production can lack pace, and is troubled by needless montage sequences and audience participation that add little to proceedings. Also, while generally well performed, the running time does in extended periods struggle for laughs.
Surrounding Furlong is a strong ensemble cast. Anoushka Rava captures the vapid nature of her character. Many highlights come from Leo Elso’s Oronte, a sensitive soul that takes every chance to indulge in his artistry. Furlong himself, while undertaking a tremendous task in starring and directing this production, doesn’t seem to really hate enough. It may be due to his nature that even in his most hatefully intended rants, he still comes across as quite pleasant.
While interesting to see, Moliere’s text does in this performance really cry out for unleashing. You leave wanting more precision, raised stakes and the changed setting works better for some aspects than others. Overall then, a fascinating bi-language project from Exchange Theatre that while holding much promise, at this stage doesn’t quite hit the height of its ambitions.
Reviewed by Callum McCartney
Photography by Anais Le Pape
Camden People’s Theatre
Other Moliere directed by David Furlong
Reviewed – 27th April 2018
“The music is beautifully chosen and forms a beguiling and well-crafted backdrop”
Molière’s daring script, based on a story by Tirso de Molina, was published in 1665, with a milder version written by Corneille in 1677 at the request of Molière’s widow. Director, Anastasia Revi, makes bold, enriching changes to the play, emphasising a less considered aspect of Don Juan as a man who is victim of his own desires. The initial scene setting is brilliantly clever, playing with the audience’s preconceptions, and the added ‘Illusion of Love’ character creates a visual dimension to Don Juan’s vulnerability. In addition, placing the action at the Venice carnival rather than Sicily allows for a more playful atmosphere. In the play, newly-wed Don Juan is pursued by vengeful relatives while embarking on further amorous adventures. After fleeing, unrepentant, he experiences a series of supernatural encounters before finally confronting his failings, and fate.
Peter Rae is superb as the free-thinking, amoral Don Juan, consumed by his weakness for women and without a care for the distresses he leaves behind. He puts across a self-assured nonchalance as he engages in entertaining, philosophical discussions with the devout yet ambitious Sganarelle, wonderfully portrayed by David Furlong. Furlong perfectly balances the servant’s need to challenge his master’s views while being careful not to risk his job. There are a couple of instances where we enjoy the valet’s own take on Don Juan, but it is the chemistry of their relationship that defines this interpretation and drives the narrative.
The discarded yet defiant Elvira is played by Emmanuela Lia in a strong performance as she scorns her husband’s deceit until recalled by her faith to the convent. There is a wealth of distinctive characters in the talented hands of Benoît Gouttenoire and Samuel Lawrence who, behind Venetian masks, appear as men, women, young and old. In particular, Lawrence’s Pierrot and Don Luis stand out. Signe Preston as the Illusion of Love gracefully weaves round the theatre enticing Don Juan’s susceptibility.
Anastasia Revi’s inspired direction assimilates the whole theatre space, involving the audience in the action and giving energy to the production. The music is beautifully chosen and forms a beguiling and well-crafted backdrop, at times providing its own comedy. The resourceful set design by Valentina Sanna uses a handful of props to conjure up a privileged lifestyle and she makes good use of height on the small stage. Chuma Emembolu’s lighting articulates the contrasting moments with precision and sensitivity, and the costumes (Valentina Sanna) and wigs (Umberto Fiorilla) add a touch of disguise to the carnival spirit. As minor comments, the sound is slightly too loud during certain sections of dialogue and the masks occasionally muffle the speech.
Theatre Lab’s ‘Don Juan’ transforms the cliché of seductiveness into an almost endearing cynicism, a weakness of indulgence rather than the acme of male prowess, and in doing so, the female element becomes more dominant and the passages of philosophising make more sense. With an excellent cast and lively staging this is somehow both rollicking entertainment, and food for thought.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Panayis Chrysovergis
Hoxton Hall until 12th May
Previously at the venue