Bell Shakespeare’s production of The Miser sees 17th century France meet 21st century Australia with often hilarious results.
Australian playwright Justin Fleming has adapted French playwright Moliere’s 1668 satirical farce, The Miser, and the result is a very colourful show full of witty rhyming verse, Australian slang and modern day cultural references.
The Miser tells of mean, ill-mannered and socially inept Harpagon (John Bell), who prefers money over everything in life, including his children. Indeed he’s so obsessed with his money he doesn’t realise both his son and daughter are in love. Cléante (Damien Strouthos) loves a beautiful but very poor young woman, Mariane (Elizabeth Nabben). His daughter Élise (Harriet Gordon-Anderson) has fallen for Valère (Jessica Tovey), the woman who saved her from drowning and who has taken a job as Harpagon’s servant in order to be close to her.
Both children want to marry their loves but Harpagon wants Cléante to marry an old rich widow and Élise an old rich man, Signor Anselm (Sean O’Shea). At the same time Harpagon also wants to marry a woman who has caught his eye, although she has no money. That woman is, of course, Mariane. Helping Harpagon in his quest to woo Mariane is match-maker Frosine (Michelle Doake).
What follows is plenty of confusion, high jinx and bad behaviour until the theft of Harpagon’s 10,000 gold crowns by Cléante servant La Fleche (also played by Sean O’Shea) brings matters to a head.
Fleming generally follows Molière’s plot with one major exception – Valère is now a woman. This provides an opportunity for some very funny dialogue, especially on how women should treat men.
Staging and costumes play a major role in blending Molière’s world with Fleming’s modern adaption. The set is simple, with a couch , a few plant filled glass tanks (representing Harpagon’s garden) and four doors. Entrances and exits make the best use of the doors, which are variously opened and slammed in unison or quick succession. IPads feature in several scenes but then there are also references to horse drawn coaches.
French period wigs and beauty spots abound on many of the characters together with more modern and rather `colourful’ shoes, dresses and suits. The outfit Harpagon wears to win Mariane’s heart – shiny black trousers, gold jacket and sparkly gold loafers together with a wig is a show stopper!
Watching Bell and indeed all the cast in action is a delight.
All expertly portray the comic skills and timing needed to ensure the play’s often complicated dialogue and slapstick physical humour brilliantly comes to life on stage.
Bell perfectly captures Harpagon’s greedy, uncouth and very sneaky behaviour. O’Shea’s portrayal of La Fleche, Doake’s performance as Frosine and Jamie Oxenbould as Master Jacques (Harpagon’s cook and coachman) are also memorable.
Despite the `modernisation’ of The Miser, the themes of greed, love, money, family dynamics and manipulation which Moliere originally explored are still very evident in this extremely entertaining production.
*Photo credit: Prudence Upton
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of The Miser as a guest of Bell Shakespeare.
- Bell Shakespeare, Melbourne, plays
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