Watermill Theatre - The Miser
11th April to 18th May 2013
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Harpagon, the eponymous miser in Molière’s comedy, loves his money a lot more than he loves his son Cleante or his daughter Elise. Both father and son want to marry Marianne; Elise wants to marry Valere, who is well connected but working as a steward in Harpagon’s household, but daddy wants her to marry Anselme, who is old but rich. After many machinations regarding Harpagon’s money, the play ends with a hilariously ridiculous denouement that Shakespeare would have approved of.
Director Nancy Meckler chose her cast from recently graduated actors, which helps to give the production liveliness and energy, but made it difficult to picture Alex Mann (Harpagon) as someone in his sixties. Eliza Collings was excellent as the feisty Frosine, the matchmaker trying to fix Harpagon up with Marianne, played by Charlie Russell, understandably bemused by the goings-on around her.
Daniel Wilde gave a strong performance in his dual role as Valere and Le Fleche (with a slightly dodgy Scottish accent). Ben Ashton was the bad son Cleante, with an imposing if slightly camp presence. Edmund Digby-Jones had the two very different roles of Maitre Jacques, the cook and coachman, and Anselme, the deus ex machina who, as everyone’s favourite relative, resolves the happy ending. Helen Sorren completed the cast as Elise.
There are lots of asides, directed at specific audience members rather than generally. It was a fairly restrained audience on press night, but I can imagine some audiences responding with a bit of heckling, which I hope the cast would take in their stride.
At a few places in the play, and before it starts, there were interludes with Maitre Jacques and two of his female housemaids doing a mime show, dressed as clowns. This was a charming touch, harking back to Molière’s Commedia dell’arte influences.
Martin Sherman’s modern script worked well – modern translations of pre-20th century comedy can be a bit problematic if they are not to expose the clunkiness of the plot, but no problems here.
All in all, an enjoyable, fast paced and action packed comedy.
Review from the British Theatre Guide and the Newbury Weekly News.
Director Nancy Meckler brings a fresh and vibrant interpretation to Martin Sherman’s new adaption of Molière’s The Miser and it’s a fast-paced and very funny production that had the audience laughing out loud from start to finish.
The Watermill is dedicated to supporting emerging artists through its Freewheel project which gives the cast and creative team of young professionals the opportunity to learn more about their craft through a longer rehearsal process and allows for additional teaching and training. They have grasped this challenge with relish in what is an impressive, gleeful production.
Ellan Parry’s atmospheric set of grey locked and chained cupboards with many secret compartments is intriguing and creates the ideal background with an aura of bleakness.
Alex Mann, dressed in a threadbare quilted coat, is superb as the miserly skinflint Harpagon who refuses to spend any money on himself or his children and has stashed away his vast fortune, burying some of it in the garden. He is totally obsessed and will do anything to avoid spending money much to the angst of his family.
His wily daughter Elise, alluringly played by Helen Sorren, is in love with Harpagon’s steward Valere, a splendid performance from Daniel Wilde who is painfully and hilariously ingratiating to his master.
Ben Ashton is marvellous as the ostentatious strutting peacock of a son Cleante who is in love with the innocent Marianne, the charming Charlie Russell, who comes from a very poor family and cannot provide a dowry in order that she can marry Cleante.
The tension mounts when Harpagon announces that he is about to marry Marianne that very evening, plunging Cleante into a panic as he desperately tries to borrow money to pay for the dowry with farcical results.
The lovers are reassured by the matchmaker Frosine, a delightful, robust and energetic portrayal by Eliza Collings, whose wit and quick thinking manages to keep all sides placated, convincing Harpagon that, “How could anyone love a puppy when they could have a dog” and to Marianne, “What’s the point in marrying an old man if widowhood was not in the marriage contract.”
Edmund Digby-Jones brings some lovely touches of humour as the cook and coachman Maitre Jacques, who is forced to produce food without any money and is worried that his horses are starving.
There are some magical moments of clowning that echoes the Commedia dell‘arte genre and are filled with comic invention and audience participation.
This is a perfect evening’s entertainment full of fun and mischief that leaves you feeling good, the perfect escape from the wet miserable weather. Bravo.
There are reviews in The Public Reviews ("this new production... ramps up the fun and squeezes every last laugh out of Martin Sherman’s adaptation... a slow burner until the humour is fully unleashed in the final 30 minutes" 4 stars) and The Stage ("the young performers examine and capably develop their characters, blending typical commedia influence into the unique Watermill setting").