Dressed in a palette of gelato colours – sweet pastels and pleasant designs – The Miser is an inoffensive romp through a Moliere classic (though not his best).
The costumes imbue the play with a creativity and lightness that the play itself doesn’t have. There is very little that happens and the characters do not develop. The Miser does not learn from his meanness – he doesn’t change in any way. Those around him don’t change either – the enjoyment, however, comes from the clever dialogue and the performances of an ensemble that clearly works well together.
The set looks simple and is only changed by a superficial movement of a chaise lounge which is moved frequently to act as a change of scene. Bell moves around his greenery in a similar fashion. The set never seems bare, although it is minimal. Although, once the cast is in the room and their pretty colours fill the stage, it seems complete.
Seeing John Bell is always a delight. Of course, John Bell as the Miser (Harpagon) is perfect. He knows exactly the tone, the character – he’s done it thousands of times before. His cast are playing slightly behind him as supports.
He is a versatile actor but this role doesn’t really give him opportunity to display the different sides of a character. The Miser is a skin-flint, penny-pinching tight-arse. While there are many words to describe him, there is nothing that challenges his love of money, and this makes the character purely two dimensional. He thinks of everything in life through the lens of money in and money out. Wherever possible, he tends not to practice the latter.
The play begins with his two children, both in love and ready to marry their partners. They reveal their plans to each other and confer about how they can break their news to their father. However, when they eventually find the time is right to talk to him – they are surprised at how open he is to the idea of marriage. Their feelings of pleasure don’t last long when they realise that he is talking about his own marriage, as well as marrying them off to people who will bring wealth to the family.
Things become worse when the son realises his father intends to marry his own intended. The play then centres around making sure that the father doesn’t get his hands upon her. How can he be distracted? How can love triumph?
The daughter hasn’t mentioned that she is in love with someone on her father’s staff. She waits for the right moment. Bell Shakespeare has decided to make the daughter’s intended the same sex, which is perfectly fitting in the play and expands opportunities, in this case, for women in theatre.
The actors are all solid in their roles with the standouts limited to perhaps the larger than life, Frosine (Michelle Doake) and La Flèche/Signor Anselm (Sean O’Shea) who is struggling within the confines of his small role. Jessica Tovey, as Valere, shows a delightful comic ability and keeps the drama well paced.
The play is updated and rewritten by Justin Fleming, who has done so well with previous adaptations including the spectacular Literati at the Griffin in 2016. Fleming is clever and modernises the text while allowing as much of the poetic language to remain. He knows where the laughs should be and works well to keep the drama light and fresh, and also Australian.
The Miser is a lightweight, comic and simple introduction to Moliere. It finished in Sydney on Saturday 6 April, when it moves to Canberra and then to Melbourne.
For more information visit Bell Shakespeare website.