Sean Foley, as director and co-adaptor of this new version of Moliere's 1668 comedy The Miser, tries to do what Richard Bean did in One Man Two Guvnors (based on Goldoni's 1746 play The Servant of Two Masters), namely give an ancient piece new comic legs while still honouring its meticulously plotted farcical origins.
But though I laughed fitfully, The Miser made me feel like one myself for not embracing it more fully. Part of the problem is simply that instead of less being more, more here is definitely less. It piles on so many jokes -- verbal as well as visual -- that the smile soon starts freezing on your lips. Too often the cast seems to be working over-strenuously to amuse, and there's nothing less funny than actors trying way too hard.
That's a shame, because there is stuff to enjoy here, as we follow an elderly curmudgeon and spendthrift Harpagon, as he tries to pursue his own romantic endeavours with an inappropriately younger woman, while trying to marry his foppish son off to that woman's mother. He's also lined up an elderly suitor for his daughter, too, on the expectation of a generous dowry.
The situation is ripe with comic possibility, but Foley keeps going to the extremes; and louder doesn't necessarily mean funnier. Griff Rhys Jones, a veteran stage and TV star, is cast uneasily as the comedy front man, he's not as funny as he clearly thinks he is. Lee Mack, making his straight acting stage debut, also has to employ a full repertoire of comic ticks and impersonations that make him one of the hardest working actors in the west End, but it feels more like hysteria than hysterical.
There's wittier, more wily comedy work from actors who are able to find and sustain a character with consistency, like Mathew Horne's Valere, Katy Wix's Elise and especially Ryan Gage's Cleante. Meanwhile, Alice Power's set also contributes its own series of sight gags.
What the Press Said...
"The audience is clobbered into submission by an anything-for-a-laugh Molière adaptation that casts Lee Mack – in his theatre debut – as the sane one."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"If I sound too miserly in my praise, it’s out of concern for readers’ disposable income. It’s fun enough, but you may want to save your shekels."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
" Such is the unrelenting pace I feared that everyone, both onstage and off, would require a good lie-down come the interval."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard