Adelaide Fringe 2011
Alceste is a playwright and a cynic; he is not afraid to speak his mind and criticise the imminent doom of humanity and capitalist, consumerist society. But he then falls in love with Jennifer, a lovely young American actress who represents all that he despises. The play revolves around Jennifer and Alceste’s morals, particularly when it comes to telling the truth about their closest friends—their witty banter, and input from colleagues and associates entertains, provokes, and weaves a tapestry of passion, romance, desire and jealousy.
Martin Crimp has succeeding in giving a classic piece of satire a modern twist. Instead of a French Salon, the audience is part of a hotel room where cynicism, drama and passion ensue as Alceste, a playwright, and Jennifer, an up-and-coming American actress, battle out their differences. Instead of the rising bourgeois, Alceste critiques the media circles, politicians, and the emerging A-list celebrity scene. Jennifer, on the other hand, counts the very people Alceste loathes for their hypocrisy as her closest friends. It is a classic scenario where two opposing views on contemporary society provide the audience with different perspectives and arguments on a postmodern world. After the zen décor of the sixties, we are taken into the opulence and sumptuousness of Louis XIV’s court when Jennifer throws a ‘Louis Quatorze’ themed party. During this climactic scene, we can see where Molière drew inspiration for his original play as the masks (both literally and figuratively) are peeled back to reveal true feelings and the characters consider the notion of authenticity.
The State Theatre Company consistently entertains audiences with faultless performances, passionate actors, and its enviable sets. The Misanthrope was executed flawlessly with zealous performances and uncanny portrayals of the characters. It was difficult to determine whether the audience loved to hate, or hated to love the sceptical and contemptuous Alceste, while naive yet insightful Jennifer soothed and enraged at the same time. Friends and associates Marcia, Julian, John, Ellen, Alexander, Covington, and Simon were played to perfection and lightened what could have been an otherwise bleak play.
Martin Crimp modernised the script for contemporary audiences, but retained the humour and ambience of Molière’s original. The self-reflexivity was well-executed with jokes about Alceste acting ‘like a character from a Molière play’ and witticisms about the theatre industry and unfashionable romanticism. The audience responded instantly to the taunts and sycophancy, with the couplets and iambic pentameters teasing audience anticipation. The set is a hotel room decorated in a classic sixties style with subtle hints and reflections of the consumer society that Alceste despairs over; however, the pièce de resistance is the transition to the extravaganza of the Louis Quatorze soirée and the modern take on the décor was slightly disconcerting but entirely appropriate for the grand finale.
I was unsurprisingly entertained and provoked into thinking deeply about the modern world—Martin Crimp’s take on Molière’s Le Misanthrope was a resounding success, coupled with director Catherine Fitzgerald’s expertise and obvious attention to detail. I would highly recommend this play for all theatre enthusiasts as it draws on classic practices, and the outstanding performances engross and engage with the audience.