Thursday, 9 March 2017

Theatre Review: The Miser

In my day job, I occasionally have days where I am obliged to spend upwards of three hours listening to Ministers and civil servants explain dry pieces of international trade rules to various select committees (seriously, if anyone understands the role of the WTO amber box on agricultural subsidies come talk to me).

This is, frankly, as exciting as it sounds and I usually spend the sessions wishing I was at the theatre. In many ways this review is therefore a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for...

The Miser is apparently a classic French comedy by Moliere, adapted for a West End revival by Sean Foley (who also directs) and Phil Porter, that tells the story of Harpagon, the titular Miser, and his obsession with protecting his fortune from any and all threat - real and/or imagined. When the love lives of his two children pose a serious threat to his money passion and parsimony collide and hilarity ensues.

Or not.

Because this production is not funny. It's amateurish, sub-pantomime, puerile, cringe inducing fluff. Badly staged, barely acted.

I was, in short, not a fan.

The adaptation, for a start, is genuinely bizarre. The insertion of 'topical' 'jokes' (about austerity, payday loans, zero hours contract and 'le Sports Direct') at random points to serve no purpose becomes exceptionally tiring exceptionally quickly. More irritating still is the even more random insertion of French words and phrases at various points where they have no business ever being for, presumably, attempted comedy effect. Unless you think that French as a concept is inherently funny - in which case you'd be better spending your time reading your Route Nationale, a niche joke which I'm aware gives my age away heavily - there is no possible reason for this. Any subtlety, satire or sophistication that was in Moliere's original text is drowned amongst the cacophony of nonsense, which is a pretty damning indictment of any adaptation for my money. Sean Foley's comedy adaptations (he was, after all, the brains behind excellent French farce adaptation The Painkiller in the Branagh season at The Garrick) are usually reliably strong so all of this is doubly disappointing.

Disappointing too is the manner in which the text, for what it is, is approached. Presumably this, too, is a Sean Foley decision in his role as director and it is as baffling as the adaptation. There is zero sophistication; lines are shouted (SHOUTED!!!!!), speech impediments are used throughout to no particular comedy effect and I lost the will to care whether Lee Mack was genuinely constantly forgetting his lines and improvising or whether this was intended. Either way, in the formal setting of what is supposed to be classic French farce none of it cuts the Dijon (NB: this self consciously poor attempt at a joke is funnier than anything in the actual play).

The (mis)casting of the piece is also a real shame. There are a host of fantastic stand ups in the cast - not least the superb Lee Mack and Andi Osho who I just love - and the rare moments where I felt the corners of my mouth turning up were thanks to them breaking character entirely and reverting to their stand up personas. But this is a play. There should be acting, not stand up comedy. Or at least acting as well as stand up comedy. And there just isn't: there's shouting, mincing, stupid voices and weak slapstick, but really nothing in the way of acting.

The cumulative effect of all of this for me was a bizarre mishmash of a really lazy pantomime and contextless stand up which didn't fit together, didn't fit the piece and just wasn't funny. I can't even honestly say it was so bad it was good; it was just bad. I was, frankly, kind of angry that it was occupying the same stage that mere weeks ago hosted my beloved This House.

However, all criticism and especially comedy criticism is subjective, and there were plenty of people in the theatre laughing their arses off so, who knows, maybe it was just me. (I don't think it was though. After all plenty of people voted for Brexit and Donald Trump. You can't trust plenty of people.)

Should you be so inclined, The Miser plays at The Garrick theatre until 3rd June. Tickets are available from right here.

My ticket for this show was provided free by but all opinions expressed in this review are, as should be glaringly obvious, my own. They also sell tickets to stuff I liked (such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead).

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