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The Misanthrope

Daily Express, 27th March 1998, Edward Pearce

Molière is notoriously difficult to do well.

Performed entirely straight, it can sound like aquarium theatre or a ballet with words.

Alternately, some directors fool about with the costume and setting and run round in flashy little circles trying to distract attention from the tedious old playwright.

Sir Peter Hall does none of these things and has emerged with an almost perfect production, which by understatement, triumphantly demonstrates Molière’s grandeur.

The translation by Ranjit Bolt, is crisp and full of impact. But better than that it is full of dry subtleties and serves Molière rather than showing off Bolt.

Stage design by John Gunter is rich, but not gaudy.

Peter Hall’s restraint and constructive theatrical conservatism lead him to brilliant single scenes. There is a quintet of bitching courtiers, male and female, descanting off one another while the main character, Alceste, watches appalled.

Alceste’s deepening unhappiness at the ill-natured hypocrisy of society, which ends in withdrawal from it, is made real by a staggering performance by Michael Pennington.

With a bubbling and delicious Elaine Paige as his mistress and Peter Bowles as a French Foppington – strangulated vowels and bullfrog manner – all the acting is at the highest level.

Don’t be put off from the great experience of a French masterpiece finally got right. You’ll enjoy it.

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