Tag Archives: theatre

Review: the Misanthrope @ Bristol Old Vic

25 Oct

In order to better oneself – you know, culturally – one should regularly take a trip to the theatre to enjoy a play in which one is unlikely to understand all of the words. But what if one doesn’t even understand the title?

Although opening myself up to ridicule I have to admit that upon being asked which play I was going to see (The Misanthrope), and what this meant (the word not my activities), I realised that I actually had no idea what misanthropy was. It is one of those words that you read a number of times, and presume to understand until actually put to the challenge. I had assumed that the definition was just out of reach on the tip of my mind’s tongue, but on later googling said word, I realised that this was nothing but self-delusion.

The definition of a misanthrope – someone who dislikes people in general – is the definition of our protagonist Alceste, a cream-blazered, shouting cynic who spends the play either rallying against social niceties and hypocrisies, or fawning pathetically over his conniving girlfriend, Celimene. Much of the first act of director Tony Harrison’s adaptation of the Moliere classic is spent with Alceste and his more moderate chum Philinte, as they argue tirelessly about the use (Philinte) or idiocy (Alceste) of social conventions.

I was quite astounded at Philip Buck’s (Philinte’s) ability to retain such close proximity to the obnoxious shouty man portrayed by Simon Armstrong. Even from the far reaches of the gallery, Alceste’s over-zealous bitching was giving me cause to hope that his increasingly red face showed signs of an impending heart attack. But, alas, he’d just forgotten to take a breath in between the last fifty words.

Fortunately, the play was rescued by Oronte, a fat man with a shiny bald pate, who brought humour and a break from Alceste’s shouting to the play with his rebuffed declarations of admiration for Alceste’s literary work and an attempted kiss. A woman just behind me practically shrieked at this hint to homosexuality, but she needn’t have worried as Celimene soon entered the scene as the object of both men’s affections.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett was pitch-perfect as the  flirtatious, social-climbing Celimene, whose clever malicious wit would cause her to be both revered and reviled. It was soon clear that Celimene rather than Alceste, was the axis of The Misanthrope, as fighting suitors and jealous women pontificated on subjects of unrequited love, prudeness and sincerity that were mostly brought about by Celimene’s self-serving behaviour.

The Misanthrope is a character-driven play that did not always play on its best characters, and which I felt was not entertaining enough to make up for lack of plot. Celimene is a great Becky Sharp-esque character, with entertaining admirers, but her boring boyfriend, whose errors stem from either the actor or the character or both, is much too prominent.

Many members of the audience audibly found Alceste’s cutting lines hilarious, but I found it all a little try-hard and was constantly distracted by the reddening of his face, as he struggled for air and bile.  I was also distracted by the sixth-former sitting next to me, who insisted on knitting with giant clacking needles throughout the entirety of the play, but that’s another story.

If I were to rate The Misanthrope, I’d probably award it 6 out of 10, but this isn’t that kind of review.