In his day, French satirist Molliere was both revered and feared by society – loved by the general public, but criticised by moralists and the Catholic Church for challenging the ‘sanctity’ of institutions. While 17th century France is a million miles away from the world of today, in some ways the same behaviour still exists, what with a general prediliction to be economical with the truth.
Presented by Acting Gymnasium and updated for the 21st century, Molière’s The Misanthrope is directed by Gavin McAlinden and transposed to modern day London. As a photographer, Alceste (Sunil Patel) is revered, but as someone bereft of ‘social skills’, his ‘Grinch-like’ behaviour is also widely noticed.
Traces of the original play permeate the plot, such as Alceste’s ‘illogical’ feelings for Célimène (Tawny Fontana) and his inability to reconcile these with her sociable behaviour. Also present is Célimène’s letter, which Arsinoé (Julie Drake) circulates and arouses Alceste’s Othello-esque jealousy.
While the ‘farcical’ elements keep the moments of physical humour ticking over, there’s a quality to Alceste that’s like Nick Hornby’s ‘David Grant’ in How To Be Good (‘the angriest man in Holloway’) who isn’t ‘happy’ unless he has something to be angry about. Living in the capital, there’s always something to be annoyed about, whether it’s delays on public transport or people’s rudeness, etc.
Having said that, Alceste as a Londoner in the Arts makes perfect sense, as being at the centre of the British art world brings with it an in-built sense of ego and suspicion about ‘the nex big thing’. Certainly his attitude towards appraising new work could be said to be the same as an arts critic today, balancing the general desire to praise new projects with the need for the unadulterated truth, which lends the production a certain frisson. In many ways, Alceste here is like Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew – just because others says ‘the moon is the sun’ doesn’t make it so…
© Michael Davis 2018
The Misanthrope runs at Theatro Technis until 5th May 2018.