Le MisanthropeCategory: Past Shows
DIrectorRoland Smith (also Sound Designer)
Costume DesignerZoe Price
Lighting DesignerLeo Steele
CastAlceste...............TOM DAPLYN, Celimene............ ELEANOR LAMB Oronte................JAMES GOLDWATER Phillant...............RICHARD WILLIAMS Arsinoe...............FRANCES BURTON Eliante...............ROSIE WISE Clitandre............TIM BURTON Acaste...............ANTHONY SEBASTIAN Du Bois..............KIM D'SANTOS PA / Model..........AMY BROWN Models...............HANNAH GREENSLADE MATTHEW PLASTERSON JA-RED Stage manager.........STEVE MCINALLY ASM......................PHILL VICKERY Lighting operator......ALBERT CRICK Sound operator.........CHLOE CRICK
An updated and stylised view of 17th century aristocratic French culture.
Set in the modern day fashion industry, foppish and whimsical characters are updated into models, designers and PAs inhabiting a world around the bitter and recluse photographer Alceste and his belle dame sans merci, Celimene. In this context, the play highlights the inescapable dominion of the modern fashion world and the effects it can have on one’s own ability to separate passions and personality, from one’s duty and responsibility to the industry.
A Fashionable Venture
A Satire against Fashionable False Pretence
Le Misanthrope, written and performed in 1666 was the pinnacle of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin’s career – better known by his pseudonym: Molière. Although not well received on its debut, Le Misanthrope was swiftly recognised as one Molière’s most refined masterpieces and one of the greatest French plays ever to have been written. The introduction of a new type of character as seen in Alceste, and originally portrayed by Molière himself, was a ground-breaking literary and dramatic technique, for it is widely accepted that he is a distinct vessel for Molière’s own opinions and views for his contempory critics and aristocrats; sending them the clear message that their hierarchies and aristocratic pursuits are riddled with insecurities and falsities which will bring them tumbling down eventually. This view is perfectly reflected in the aristocracy where Louis XIV eventually created the Palace of Versailles – a place where he could entertain and manipulate his fellow aristocrats with silly parlour games and trivial pursuits with the rationale of diverting their efforts away from overthrowing his government of France. Thus the historical scene is already ripe with satire for Molière and his contempory playwrights to pepper their plays with; however, why is it that name Molière is remembered before all other playwrights from this period? What is it that he achieved which so boldly sets his name in stone as the French equivalent to Shakespeare? Donald Roy asserts in “The Cambridge Guide to Theatre”, that what sets Molière so far beyond his contempories is his stunning marriage of the witty and subversive ‘French Comedy’ with that of the more farcical and carnivalesque Commedia dell’Arte, thus allowing him to please a wider audience with a fresher style and so make his mark in his time and in history.
We decided to stage a production of this triumphant work of literature, however, were somewhat perturbed about setting it within its original era. Obvious problems arose such as – would the audience know enough about French history to fully understand the intended satirical boast of the plot? Even so, would the quirky combination of Commedia dell’Arte and witty French comedy prove to be too alienating to a millennium-proof audience? After much discussion amongst the production team members, a final decision was finally made to update it to the modern day – not just in style and costume, but in every way imaginable.
It was decided that the most applicable system of management available today which involved a small selection of a great variety of ‘air heads’ and would perfectly represent the 17th century court at Versailles would be one of two choices: Parliament or the Fashion Industry. (In order to keep our hands clean in this affair we opted for the Fashion Industry as opposed to perhaps satirising Boris Johnson as the cumbersome, pompous and egocentric Oronte.)
The majority of the cast played stereotypes of modern day catwalk models and fashion designers: endlessly posing and exchanging the latest gossip over a glass of Champagne. Scenes such as Acaste’s incessant self-flattery supplemented by Clitandre’s ‘egging on’ became that of a model being fitted for a new garment by his fashion designer ultimately culminating in his apparent nakedness upon the arrival of Célimène, the femme fatale whom all male characters lust after (a character loosely based around Kate Moss, complete with cocaine dependency). Arsinoe appears as the more experienced model, no longer on the catwalk, but still holding the industry firmly within her grasp; Phillant remains the happy drunk, only this time as a semi-disenfranchised model, while Oronte appears as the shady, moneyed connection to the industry, funding it with the intent of getting into bed with it. Of course, a special role in the industry is reserved for Alceste, as he must dwell within or even depend upon this society to prohibit his instantaneous departure of it, however, he must endlessly show his disapproval of the falsities which are imbedded in it – and so, he is the official photographer – servant to their whimsies, but master of their image.
Not only were the characters altered to modernise the production, many of the scenes had action given to them so as to enhance the full satirical effect. The famous letter exchanging scene at the denouement becomes that of a PDA-texting fiasco, various scenes become photoshoots and soirees with trays of cocaine instead of canapés, while the opening of the play is transformed into a five minute long fashion show complete with obnoxiously fashionable costumes, equally objectionable music, a paparazzo in the front row and more attitude than an 80s music video. Even the shape of the stage reflected the diegisis being in the shape of a bright pink catwalk with angled mirrors reflecting every facet of the characters smug appearances. Like the selection of the diegetic chairs, the lighting too was designed with aesthetic appeal in mind. The theme of film noir-esque lighting for the more intimate scenes between Alceste and Célimène appeared throughout, highlighting the stylised nature of her carefully meditated advances upon him as a femme fatale.
Essentially, every part of the play was modernised, from the roles of the characters within their society, to the ostentatious nature of the production elements – costume, lighting, set, props and sound. However, nothing was done without due consideration. TACIT Theatre’s mission statement is to make bold, up-to-date theatre which is either driven by the narrative or the characters and with the intent to inform as well as entertain. In the 17th century, Molière was using a combination of French comedy and Commedia dell’Arte to satirise the French aristocracy and poke fun at what, at the time, was the easiest thing to poke fun at. Our objective was not simply to modernise his work, but also this fundamental idea. The Catwalk Fashion Industry is a joke in the way that it creates clothes which few people can afford, even fewer wear and is filled with such a variety of buffoons it deserves to pay for every joke which is made at its expense.
In conclusion, modernising a play is not an original idea – it has been done by thousands of amateur and professional companies throughout the world. However, we endeavoured not to fall into the trap of simply updating the style or the costumes and tried our utmost to carry forth every stone in this masterpiece 400 years for the benefit of our audiences. There are so many productions from this period, both professional and amateur, which choose to modernise a script purely for the purpose of modernisation and without any genuine motivation. Furthermore, there are plenty of these productions which fail to modernise the diegisis as a whole and merely modernise the costuming and set, merely creating ‘a play in modern dress’ rather than the theatrical feel of another world brought to us in as whole a form as possible. TACIT saw the opportunity to do this work justice in a modern setting, and updated it through and through, culminating in a highly stylised, satirised and modernised critique of the ever repugnant fashion world.
Bates, Alfred ed. The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 7.. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 199-201.
Dormandy, Thomas. “The white death: a history of tuberculosis”. NY: New York University Press, 2000. p. 10.
Hartnoll, Phyllis. ed. The Oxford Companion to the Theatre. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983.
Roy, Donald. “Molière.” in Banham, Martin. ed. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Scott, Virginia. “Molière, A Theatrical Life” Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.