Exchange Theatre sets The Misanthrope in a contemporary newsroom full of gossip, affairs, backstabbing and cocaine-fueled all-nighters. Alceste loathes the way his colleagues behave, but fancies the flirtatious Celimene in spite of his prejudices. His jealousy and inability to be polite to his colleagues causes a litany of issues that play out over their broadcasts, eventually leading to his lonely downfall.
This is a canny choice of concept by director/actor David Furlong that works well within individual scenes, particularly with the use of broadcasts and social media. But it doesn’t always make sense and is unevenly applied to the text. Lengthy transitions are totally unnecessary and add about half an hour of time onto the production, even though this business makes the working environment more convincing. The actors also incorporate excessive verbal pauses to mimic modern speech, breaking up the poetry and pace – this slows it down even further.
Some performances are stronger than others, which may well be linked to individual comfort with performing in English. The entirely bilingual company alternates French and English performances – a commendable feat – but some show signs of the language interfering with their connections to the characters. The acting style occasionally wavers, transitioning from realism to heightened comedy. This combined with the pace issues makes for a sluggish productions with a diluted message about being constantly switched onto news and gossip.
A longer rehearsal period and judiciously cutting down the excessive stage business would dramatically improve this production. The concept is fundamentally sound, but needs tweaking in its application and could be more bedded into some of the scenes. It’s certainly not a bad recontextualisation, but the frustrating execution is often sloppy and unrefined.
The Misanthrope runs through 8 July.
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