Monday, 13 March 2017

REVIEW: The Miser at the Garrick Theatre

The Miser is a glorious laugh out loud mash up and celebration of the very best comedy forms. It takes Blackadder, stand-up, pantomime, farce and Morecambe and Wise and weaves it into a plot freely adapted from a play by French playwright Moliere, first performed in 1668. It retains a strong nod to its roots in Italian commedia dell'arte where there was a tradition of depicting misers as the Pantaleone figure and a host of other stock comedy characters.

Although in period costume, the script by Sean Foley and Phil Porter is fresh and topical and seeks to create of a production in the style of the period but as relevant in its jokes to today's audience as the original jokes would have been to 17th century audience. It is littered with modern references including Sports Direct zero hours contracts, austerity and 30% cuts hitting front line services and water boarding. Sean Foley's directing mark is all over this production.

The cast is packed with comedy talent who constantly break the fourth wall and engage the audience and at times, all that was missing was the actual slap stick of the original commedia dell’arte. Lee Mack as Maitre Jacques, the multi tasking servant who is the manic musician, cook, coachman, sommelier and hangman is very funny and his comic timing is perfect for this times a bit Eric Morecambe like . Indeed the Ernie Wise straight counterpart is played superbly by Griff Rhys Jones as Harpagon, the Miser, especially when he directly addresses the audience and draws them into the conspiracy against himself.

They are very well supported by a strong cast of talented actors who are called on to play stock comedy characters in a politically incorrect over the top style. When you accept the style, you sit back and enjoy the performances .Mathew Horne, as Valere (in disguise as a servant in the Miser's household) and Katy Wix as Elise (Harpagon's lisping daughter) make an odd couple but have plenty of amusing physical comedy. They are matched by Ellie White as Marianne (a posh peasant girl) and Ryan Gage (Harpagon's son, a flamboyant rake) especially in the second act. The plot thickens in an increasingly unlikely direction with arrival of the matchmaker Frosine, (played by Andi Osho) and the neighbour Monsieur Anselme, (played by Michael Webber) described as “a man who looks like Humpty Dumpty”.

The set is practical and impressive with a slick change from Act 2 scene 1, in the garden
back into the Act 1 interior set. The scenes changes are covered by the rest of the cast as household servants, rather a lot of them for a miser, in amusing comic songs and dance. Some of the practical jokes are rather obvious and a couple repeated too often (foot through chair , trapped fingers and falling scenery ) as the production heads for “Play that went wrong” territory !

If anything the first act is a little over long and slow and the harpsichord gags could be reduced, but the pace picks up in the second half as it races to its farcical conclusion and sends the audience home still giggling and amused by a modern retelling of a classic period comedy .

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

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