THE MISER at Bath Theatre Royal

Doing the classics can be a bit like navigating a minefield laid out by the keepers of the culture: deviate from the path of authenticity and woe betide you.  Approaching without reverence on the other hand, can have an effect equivalent to a cold shower – invigorating, getting the blood circulating to parts otherwise in danger of atrophy.  The greats are never afraid of recycling old plots and Molière, being a case in point, in writing The Miser, freely adapted Plautus’ The Pot of Gold, which in turn was in all likelihood a reworking of a Greek original.  Messrs. Foley and Porter, without a by-your-leave to the Académie Française, have taken Molière’s plot, given it a dose of salts to clear out all the archaisms and fed in a few anachronisms to turn it out fresh faced and beaming at the twenty first century.

Owing more to the exuberance of Aristophanes than anything that followed, the first thing to say about this production is that if you like your Molière neat you’re going to be disappointed.  However, purged of any preconceptions about how French classics ought to be done you’ll be in for a treat.  More akin to Ernie Wise than Feydeau – though with the latter’s sense of the absurd – mixing panto and parody, comic melodrama music-hall patter and caricature, the eclectic style defies overall description, yet somehow works.  We can put this down to some clever directing that manages to get the diverse cast of talents all pulling in the same … direction. Think of, The Play That Goes Wrong, meets, ‘The Script That Gets Lost’ and you’ll have the glimmer of an idea of where that is.

Griff Rhys Jones as Harpagon, irascible to a fault and a pin-up boy for cupidity remains remarkably likeable  – even whilst, during one digression, threatening the audience with waterboarding.  The fourth wall comes and goes and he is just as happy interrogating or berating the boxes and stalls as any of his staff or love-lorn family.  It is a well-judged creation backed by immaculate timing and a proprietorial sense of style.  The supporting cast are no less accomplished.

Lee Mack manages to be Lee Mack and serve the production well. His quick wit is ideally suited to the Jack-of-all-trades, Maître Jaques as he does his best to serve his master in a variety of hats.  Katy Wix as Elise and Ryan Gage as her brother, Cléante, are the hapless offspring. Both turn in extravagant characters that don’t fail to entertain each time they open their mouths, the latter with an ebullient, swirling kaleidoscope of a fop. The objects of their affections, Valère (Mathew Horne) and Marianne (Ellie White) both complement their respective partners with distinctive comic gems.

The production heads for London as a colourful and effervescent interpretation of one of comedy’s seminal writers. I predict a hit.   ★★★★★  Graham Wyles   16th February 2017