Never, ever underestimate the stupidity of the rich and powerful; that’s certainly one of the obvious lessons you can get from Liz Lochhead’s brilliantly funny take on the scandalous life and times of 17th century French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin de Molière. It’s a view which arguably connects with a decidedly Scottish love of the roguish underdog, which in turn can occasionally twist into a determination to drag down anyone considered to be “a wee bit showy”. No wonder overtly Scottish (rather than British or English) writers, such as Lochhead, appear to have a genuine affinity with Molière’s writing.
If you’re looking for a well-crafted script, brilliantly-performed, there’s little better around to beat Thon Man Molière.
Written in Scots – frequently poetic, often brusque, and occasionally both – Lochhead’s approach – while very much her own – can’t exactly be called subtle; a point that’s fulsomely embraced by director Tony Cownie. Neil Murray’s monochrome set – all greys and line illustrations – only emphasises the Technicolor™ brilliance of his voluminous costumes. In addition, by casting Jimmy Chisholm as the overblown playwright, and Siobhan Redmond as the calming influence of his on/off lover Madeleine Béjart, Cownie guarantees that he has two brilliantly powerful, well-matched acting talents dominating the stage.
Except that this is much more of an ensemble than the advertising – which emphasises Chisholm and Redmond – suggests. In particular, Sarah Miele – who amazingly hasn’t yet graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – brings a genuine, natural depth to Molière’s somewhat emotionally fragile young wife Menou (who also happens to be Madeleine’s secret daughter). Molly Innes, meantime, expertly mines every bit of comedy out of her role as Madeleine’s servant Toinette, wiser than most to what’s going on around her. Her repeated – and soon eagerly awaited – catchphrase “I’ll no say it…” deserves to be on a t-shirt at once. Last, but by no means least, the ever-reliable Steven McNicoll, James Anthony Pearson and Nicola Roy provide invaluable support as Molière’s entourage of actors, ever hopeful of getting the better roles they feel they deserve – or, failing that, a shag.
Subtitled “Whit got him intae aw that bother”, Thon Man Molière is laugh-out -loud funny, but it does lacks a certain dramatic depth; Madeleine constantly refers to Molière’s enemies and the risks he runs, but we never see them on stage – meaning we never have the opportunity to feel what’s actually at stake. Plus, on occasions, Lochhead blatantly cheats her audience; an arguably shocking, and potentially significant, pre-interval revelation is immediately dismissed at the start of the second half, which – at best – is disrespecting the audience. While, on occasions, the staging has the air of music hall on occasions, with cast-members temporarily acting near the stage lights as – behind the curtain – necessary set changes are made.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a well-crafted script, brilliantly-performed, there’s little better around to beat Thon Man Molière. This is the final production in the Lyceum Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary year season, and is an undoubtedly fitting conclusion, not least for departing artistic director Mark Thomson.