When you go to see a play that Sir Laurence Olivier has described as being "as funny as a baby's open grave", you know that you will come away with an opinion. Bearing in mind that Moliere's humour does not always translate well, The Miser was always going to be a challenging piece of art.
Sean Foley has directed this piece and put a spring-like finish on it. With a very well matched cast to the character profiles, Griff Rhys Jones, Lee Mack and Mat Horne are at one in their roles. Indeed, Rhys Jones stated that he enjoys the challenge of reviving old comedies and in making what is thought of as a curmudgeonly lead into a lovable character. His take on Harpagon, the ill-tempered, penny-pinching man in the afternoon of his life, is dealt with aplomb. Such is Rhys Jones' commitment that he had his hair specifically cut for the role which is a feat in itself given that for much of the play, his head is underneath a wig.
The plot is a story of mismatched lovers, long-lost family, unrequited love and, of course, money. Does love prevail? Does the heart triumph over the pound?
The Miser is a parody of love. Both Harpagon (a play on the Latin word for "Hook") and Valere (his butler, played by Mat Horne) are in love. Valere is in love with Harpagon's daughter, an apt twist in the tale. Mack takes his turn as the servant and shows his ability to play various roles with speed and light, some better than others. That said, his dry wit and quick retort are very noteworthy. Ryan Gage takes on Cleonte (the son in the love triangle) much in the style of a pantomime dame. Katy Wix is the harried daughter in love with Valere despite being promised to another, much older, man.
The Miser has been re-worked to include numerous references to modern day culture and social comment. Whilst this ties in nicely to current day themes, it doesn’t sit so well in a period piece set in Paris, at times it felt forced and that the cast was playing for laughs. The comedy flows thick and fast, slapstick and innuendo aplenty and many visual gags. The set is reminiscent of a tatty chateau and its aura contained notes of Blackadder. There were a couple of ill-timed props snafus which detracted from the actors’ work; it is hard to have a reaction to an action that isn’t in keeping with the flow of the show.
Rhys Jones is understandably the pull of the show. He has an effervescent nature that he brings to Harpagon, his diction and enunciation, crucial to this role, alongside the mimicry of an old man in a position of loneliness and the trappings that great wealth can bring; Jones manages to bring to life Moliere’s grumpy old man in a way that is sympathetic of the era in which it is set. For me, the standout star of the show is undeniably Mat Horne. His portrayal of Valere was fitting within the characters' personalities. He brought an almost child-like exuberance to the play and managed to break the fourth wall very clearly, maintaining eye contact and interacting with the audience, indeed a rare treat for us settling down to enjoy a fun, frivolous and, at times, unbelievable night in London's homely Garrick theatre.
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