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12 February 2010

"That's Not Love, It's a Psychiatric Disorder"

It made a refreshing change to leave my desk at 5.30 on a Friday and arrive at a Leicester Square restaurant (J Sheekey) at 5.45. We had to have an early supper as we were going to the theat-ah--my second play this year! The play in question was The Misanthrope, starring Damian Lewis, Tara FitzGerald and, of course, Ikea Keira Knightley, the latter having surprised many critics with a less flat-pack performance than usual.

I saw a couple of Molière plays (The Misanthrope and The Miser) thanks to a visiting theatre troupe that came to our school a couple of times to perform. We were given, I believe, a copy of the script with an English translation to help us understand. I get the two plays quite confused, possibly because I saw one of them before I got into French (circa 1998 or whenever it was that I fancied that half-French guy).

It all came back to me fairly swiftly, though, in the first few minutes of tonight's production--a modern (and sometimes post-modern) translation set (mostly) in the present day among the shallow, insipid ranks of celebrity and tabloid culture rather than the 17th century aristocracy. I had been warned when booking that my seat and the Bro's would have a "very slight viewing restriction." When we showed up, however, there was a fairly substantial pillar, which meant the far right side of the stage was completely blocked and I had to edge as far to the left of my seat as possible (to the delight of the man sitting next to me--an elderly academic type). I had hoped that the empty seats next to me would remain vacant throughout but sadly they were filled a few seconds before the curtain went up. There were two free seats next to the parents and I'd hoped to move there for the second half but sadly, they were claimed during the interval. Nonetheless, I was more annoyed about the website's failure to manage my viewing restriction expectations than anything else.

And so the play. Well, Damian Crimp's script is very sharp, very clever and very, very funny with plenty of self-mockery: the protagonist (played by Damian Lewis) is also a playwright, Alceste, and there are references to Molière, French society and to post-modernism itself. "Are you coming on to me?" asks Ellen, a journalist. "Now that's a question I'd rather was answered by a semiotician," replies John, Alceste's mate.

Damian Lewis and Tara FitzGerald (who plays a bitchy acting teacher) were both great, as were most of the rest of the ensemble. Inevitably, Keira was the weakest link, although she wasn't terrible. She plays a self-absorbed, vain, vapid American actress who swans about the rest of the cast (other actors, agents and hacks) with an air of superiority while toying with Alceste's heart. Keira does an OK job but her American accent was a) inconsistent and b) very whiny and high-pitched, so much so that by the end, I'm sure only dogs could hear her. Although, of course, she is playing a silly, flamboyant character, every line she uttered and every movement she made seemed like overkill and as though she was trying way too hard to avoid being described as bland and expressionless. She got a lot of laughs but most of these were really due to the script rather than to her acting.

The strangest scene (again playing heavily on the Molière references) opens with Alceste waking in a dark, candle-lit room to find a large Frenchman in full 17th century garb (wig and all) on top of him. He tells the guy to speak English and fuck off and eventually realises he's not having a dream or stuck in the ante-chamber to hell (nice Sartre reference) but in a hotel suite where a Louis XIV style fancy dress party is about to take place.

In the words of the ever wise and misanthropic Alceste, "People will speak highly of a pile of shit, if they've dressed up and spent fifty quid to see it." This is probably true but thanks to a fantastic script and some great cast members, I'm glad I went, pillar or none.

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