Of all Molière’s most often-performed comedies, The Misanthrope is the trickiest for a modern audience.
Alceste, an aristocrat in Louis XIV’s Paris, rails against the court’s superficial obsessions with style and etiquette to conceal what they really think of each other. And yet the play is itself an elaborate artifice, largely in rhyming verse and with potentially static set pieces of classical French debate.
Recent productions have updated the play, but English Touring Theatre does well to leave it in its original period. Alceste’s targets are more easily characterised by their outrageous costumes and body language. In adapting the play, Roger McGough’s verse wittily overcomes any suggestion of dryness in the text.
Colin Tierney as Alceste manages to make us like and sympathise with a man who has nothing but contempt for everybody. The whole cast is strong and are well served by an opulent set, powerful music and some excellent dance sequences. Until Saturday.