There are moments of sheer brilliance in Moliere’s 17th century play, The Misanthrope, and it is no surprise that it has been dubbed his best play. Fast forward 350 years to Theatro Technis in Mornington Crescent and you’ll see a daring, diverse and international cast from the Acting Gymnasium, with direction from Gavin McAlinden, who catapult the play to a contemporary fashion studio.
Our misanthrope, Alceste, dramatically and impressively performed by Sunil Patel, is a highly demanding designer. (In some ways he reminds me of Daniel Day-Lewis’s character in the Academy Award-winning film Phantom Thread.) Overly critical of everyone, including the girl he loves, Célimène, performed assuringly and with conviction by Tawny Fontana, he uses foul and debasing language to describe his distaste for practically everything and everyone.
There’s plenty of crafty theatrical devices used in this production. The music tunes in between scenes, including top chart songs by Coldplay to Sugababes, are beneficial in breaking up the dialogue. Even though the staging is small-scale, the cast manage to subtly swap a Soho photoshoot set quickly into a Fitzrovia-based lounge with very little challenges.
Philinte, originally written as a male part, is performed exceptionally by Hannah Luna. It matters very little that she is a woman playing a male role as it worked well for this modern staging. Robert Mclanachan’s Oronte, Alceste’s rival in the fashion world and one of Célimène’s many suitors, is also excellent on stage. The minor role of Dubois, Alceste’s manservant, is handled interestingly by Preslav Shipkaliev. I am not sure if Shipkaliev is a person with Coprolalia, but, either way, he is most suited for the role.
McAlinden’s production has great potential, and with a bit more practice it can do really well. By the end of the show, I felt much sympathy for Patel’s misanthropic character. Frisky Célimène breaks Alceste’s heart by rejecting his proposal to elope and marry him. Therefore, when giving advice to trusted friends is it better to: (a) be honest and cruel, like Alceste, or (b) conceal how you truly feel for the benefit of not hurting the other person’s feelings, like Philinte? The Misanthrope demonstrates how being honest can potentially lead to fewer friends and more enemies.
The Misanthrope is now showing on Saturday 21st at 2:30pm, Wednesday 25th, Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th at 7:30pm. Also in May on Tuesday 1st and Friday 4th at 7:30pm. Click here to purchase tickets on the Acting Gymnasium website here.