Review: The Misanthrope by Roger McGough after Moliere, New Wolsey Theatre until May 18

Moliere's Misanthrope adapted by Roger McGough at the New Wolsey Theatre. Simon Coates, Alison Partg

Moliere's Misanthrope adapted by Roger McGough at the New Wolsey Theatre. Simon Coates, Alison Partgeter & Colin Tierne - Credit: Archant

Review: The Misanthrope by Roger McGough after Moliere, English Touring Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre until May 18

Moliere's Misanthrope adapted by Roger McGough at the New Wolsey Theatre. Zara Tempest-Walters & Geo

Moliere's Misanthrope adapted by Roger McGough at the New Wolsey Theatre. Zara Tempest-Walters & George Potts - Credit: Archant

Following hot on the heels of Roger McGough’s other re-energised Moliere plays The Hypochondriac and Tartuffe, comes the third and final instalment and the true masterpiece in this marvellous trilogy.

The Misanthrope is a glorious satire about public face and private passions – while taking in sobbery and self-delusion along the way. Alceste (Colin Tierney) is one of the leading poets in the French court and is hopelessly in love with Celminene (Zara Tempest-Walters), a flirtatious young widow. Alceste is tired of the posing and fashionable verse speaking so beloved of the bored aristocrats and vows to only speak the unvarnished truth.

The problem with this curmudgeonly approach to life is that he still wishes to win the heart of Celminene and the fun-loving young woman has a pair of courtly fops also anxious to win her heart.

Moliere constructed a brilliant satire on social conventions and the public face we all show. He mocks both the uptight Alceste and his brain-dead rivals Clitandre (Leander Deeny) and Oronte (Daniel Goode). Roger McGough is now so inside Molieres’ head that he updates and points up the absurdities in such a way that we can see modern life being mocked in this 17th century comic gem.


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As you would expect McGough also has huge fun with the verse and deliberately emphasises some truly groan-inducing rhymes. The one person who emerges with his integrity intact is Philinte (Simon Coates) probably the least colourful person on the stage. He acts as Alceste’s confidante and points out that a few white lies and shallow flattery are a small price to pay to keep society’s social wheels turning.

Alceste, so full of his own self-importance, cannot see the sense in this.

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This production by the experienced English Touring Theatre team is a total joy. It’s a wonderful ensemble effort with the actors revelling in the absurdity of it all. But, as with all good satire, there is a message for us all behind the laughter.

Andrew Clarke

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