“Siobhan Redmond as Madeleine and Jimmy Chisholm as Molière are perfectly, affectionately, matched.”
In February 1662 Louis XIV sent flowers on the occasion of the marriage of Molière (40) to the seventeen year old Menou (Armande) Béjart. Perhaps the feted playwright was encouraged by the success in the previous year of his School for Husbands. And maybe those flowers were roses, for Menou draws firm, long stemmed roses in her sketch book. Wait up, they look like roses but maybe they’re …. Oh no! Surely not?
This is Liz Lochhead’s new play and she can have a garland too. Thon Man Molière is a comfortable winner. First off, it is a tribute piece to the man’s comedic genius; but second, it closely involves the women in his life, and third this play loves theatre and theatre-making.
Lochhead is an artist with the man’s biography. Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, her MacMolière is ‘Pokey’ indoors. Scaramouche is a pal but the fortunes of the ‘Illustrious Theatre’ company are dire to the point of collapse (and imprisonment for debt). There is rarely enough money and there are too few commissions until the king: “Vive le Roi!” – tires of the tragedies of Racine and Corneille. Tartuffe may well be a great play – and Pokey is inordinately proud of it – but it took nearly five years to get its revised version past the Archbishop of Paris. Molière’s first child is named after his royal godfather but Louis dies at eleven months.
There is a sub-title to shape the facts: ‘Whit got [Pokey] intae aw that bother …’ – and it’s sex; not so much sex with his teenage wife but the naughty fact that Menou is the daughter of his former lover, business partner and bestie, Madeleine, and that Madame Béjart will not – under any circumstances – have her daughter tread the boards. Siobhan Redmond as Madeleine and Jimmy Chisholm as Molière are perfectly, affectionately, matched. She has the reserve, bearing, velvet voice and wide skirts of a grande dame. He has the effrontery, the wit and the audacity of his celebrated character.
Ever around and about the principals is the troupe, historically verifiable and altogether mischievous. Gros-René (Steven McNicoll), in streaked green wig, gives a command performance in lugubrious drinking and losing his breeks. Therese (Nicola Roy) is his bed-hopping wife, who would be so much more than the maid in yet another farce. James Anthony Pearson is Michel Baron, the huge star-to-be, lithe and cocksure, but who is still unable to seduce the naïve Armande, very engagingly played by Sarah Miele. At a guess, only the more than capable, laconic and kind Toinette (Molly Innes) is entirely the writer’s invention.
Tony Cownie directs with an assurance born of his previous productions at the Lyceum of Lochhead’s ‘Molières’: Tartuffe (1986!), Miseryguts (Le Misanthrope) in 2001, and Educating Agnes (L’Ecole des Femmes) in 2011. Musical entr’actes by Claire McKenzie, a la Lully, are accompanied by sweet mime and when the drapes lift the action resumes, ‘at home’ or backstage where outsize greyscale putti come second to the wooden stool, wicker baskets and some splendid costumes that were too much even for the Comédie – Francaise, aka. ‘La Maison de Molière’.
Dinnae think Thon Man Molière is daft. The script is too sharp for that and its composed effect is almost tender, which, with all those satiric impulses flying around, is some achievement.
The theatre programme contains an excellent ‘Who Was Molière?’ by Liz Lochhead herself and there’s a helpful preview article by Neil Cooper in the Herald.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 24 May)
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