The Misanthrope Sept. 10th, ’11

 

How far can your love for telling the truth go? How much truth can people stomach? What is truth and when is it actually more merciful to obfuscate and tell a lie?And finally – where will it leave you if you tell the truth all the time?

It seems Moliere,  under patronage from a few aristocrats and well equipped by the royal court (he was even allowed to use rooms in the palace appointed for performances), was quite fed up with the hypocrisies of that same aristocratic society when he wrote this play i n 1666, trying to make the court see just how vain and false they all are.

In the play Misanhrope Alceste always tells the truth – not caring if he is hurting people or just destroying his life at court. Even when he falls in love with the beautiful young widow Celimene, he has to tell her just how much he despises her behaviour at court as she is flirty and enjoys quite a few suitors at the same time. When Alceste mocks the badly written sonnett of a powerful and rich courtier, he is charged, sentenced and humiliated and decides to go to exile.

But Alceste’s truth is just the truth as he sees it – and his belief that he has seen through all the lies at court takes a blow when he realises that his beloved Celimene, who had kissed and sworn to love only him, had instead written identical love letters to all her suitors. Not able to cope with her lies but still in love with her, he asks her to follow him into exile.

He leaves alone.

The play – now rated as Moliere’s best – was not a success when it was first performed – audiences complained that Alceste is made to look like a fool on stage. And that was one of the things I didn’t like either. Even though Ben Carlson tried hard to make Alceste believable, the character given by Moliere still makes you think: well, would it have been so hard to bend a little? Which is probably exactly the opppsite of what Moliere tried to achieve with the play.

I also didn’t like the rather pompous verse – but then I have to admit that I am not a massive fan of Moliere’s work. I guess that a lot of French literature and plays are pieces I need to see more often to get to like them. I probably won’t see The Misanthrope again. 😉

 

Twelfth Night Sept. 9th, ’11

It’s all about the music. The very complex story of four people in love – and love has so many faces – , the pairs being shuffled and shifted until they find their other halves, it’s still all about music in this interpretation of the fabulous Twelfth Night.And it works – with a rock band on the stage and the incredible versatility of the actors involved it works like a charm, like the magic it’s supposed to be.

The story is most likely very well known: Duke Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia, who mourns her beloved brother and is intent on rejecting his advances. Sir Toby Belch tries to wed her off to his best friend, Sir Aguecheek, while her steward Malvolio pines for her. Meanwhile a shipwreck parts the two siblings Viola and Sebastian; both are saved but both think the other one’s dead. And Viola, in fear for her virtue on strange shores, disguises herself as a man.

In this disguise “Cesario” soon becomes the favorite servant of Orsino – only to fall in love with him. When he is sent to Olivia, she falls in love with “Cesario”. It takes a while until with the help of fate, the magic of the twelfth night of christmas and the not in the least foolish fool everything unravels and Orsino finds to Viola, Sebastian to Olivia.

Des McAnuff directed and made good use of his incredibly versatile cast – the fool for instance is played by Ben Carlson (one of the reasons I keep coming back to this festival) who to my honest surprise not only is playing a mean bass, but also the guitar and a mouth organ. And there we are in the middle of the magic of this particular adaption of Twelfth Night: There is an honest to god rock band on stage, dancing, playing, having the time of their lives obviously. Together with Stephen Ouimette and Brian Dennehy Ben Carlson does a canon on “Hold my piece” that is absolutely brilliant, and their rendition of “if music be the food of love, play on” is just as stunningly perfect.

Effortlessly they change the musical rhythm into something more medieval, only to get back to cheeful and fun as Olivia’s feelings for “Cesario” awaken. It is magic, happening on an almost empty stage (only once propped with a huge bar and a fridge hanging from the ceiling – which only sounds strange, but makes perfect sense in the course of the play). The costumes change from turn of the century to almost modern, to Hippie-seventies and it doesn’t bother you, it only enhances the performance. Not surprisingly the shows are almost sold out and the actors get standing ovations from an enchanted audience that obviously enjoys the early trip to a christmas celebration with  a little twist! Because the Twelfth Night of christmas was the last holiday in Shakespeare’s time, after which not only people had to go back to work again, it was (and still is) epiphany – where three wise men name the new king. Given that England was on the brink of the death of their Queen it also turns the play into a farewell to a long period of safety and unvarying prosper.

And just as Malvolio, bitterly mocked by Belch (and brilliantly played by Tom Rooney) says “I’ll be revenged by the whole pack of you” this is also an ominous foreboding – 40 years later the puritans under Cromwell will overthrow the british monarchy and close the theatres. It is with a little bit of sadness and bitterness the sweet love stories are consumed – and Belch is in more ways than one symbol of a fading order. But a little sadness has always enhanced a sweet story – as is the case with Twelfth Night.

By the way: Most of the music is composed by Des McAnuff, the director of the play. Also: You can buy the CD in the theatre store!

Les Miserables Aug. 27th, ’11

london west end

When I was a lot younger – and therefore had a lot more patience – I read the book Les Miserables. It was looooong and convoluted. (I’m not really a fan of french lit) The musical is just the same. The West End production is fantastic, the cast is great (with the exception of Cosette Lisa Anne Wood, whose soprano was rather shrill around the edges). And I didn’t even see Alfie Boe but his understudy, who also was very fabulous!

The true highlight tho was Thenardier – the Master of the House – brilliantly played by Matt Lucas, whose comic timing was never in doubt. But I didn’t realise he actually has a great voice. His performance saved the musical for me. Because the musical covered the whooole book (which I didn’t know) and even tho the music has its merits (otherwise it wouldn’t be on for 25 years and still is going strong) I admit – I am so not going to see that a second time.

Maybe it’s because the show covers what? 40 years worth of lives? Maybe because the characters are introduced and executed or shot in fast succession so you can never relate to them properly. Maybe I was just tired and I do get bored easily. Fact is – I really can’t see the overall hype about this musical.

What actually did make me smile were Simon Burke’s fun remarks in his brilliant one man show about the time when he was in Les Mis playing Marius. I finally understood his hilarious description of the dance steps in the show.

But overall  I have to admit that I am probably one of the very few people in the world who couldn’t care less about Les Mis…