The Miser review at Garrick Theatre, London – ‘over-cooked and under-nourished’
One of life’s more resourceful misers might turn stale brioche loaves into chocolate brioche pudding, with a recipe stating “the staler the brioche the better, as it makes it more absorbent for the custard base”. It’s a pity that this recipe doesn’t apply to stale old comedies.
This reboot of Moliere’s 1668 Parisian play for a modern London audience flounders. It fails despite generous servings of contemporary political, and theatrical references. (There is even, at one point, an attempt to work in the five-star review, The Miser is hoping to get from Michael Billington).
These kind of meta-theatrics, with actors regularly stepping beyond the fourth wall to talk to the audience, are par for the playful course of Sean Foley and Phil Porter’s free adaptation.
But Foley has directed many of his actors to over-the-top extremes, and there’s nothing less funny than acting that is trying too hard to be funny.
In the role of the miser of the title, Harpagon, Griff Rhys Jones is a grossly exaggerated cartoon of comic mannerisms. It’s simply exhausting to watch. The plot is also exhausting. Harpagon plans to marry his daughter off to an ancient suitor while himself marrying a young woman who has already fallen in love with someone else, while getting his son to marry that woman’s mother.
Lee Mack, the stand-up comic making his West End debut as Harpagon’s incredibly put-upon servant, similarly has to sustain an air of barely-suppressed hysteria that regularly forces his voice into shrill registers.
The most successful performances are able to find a character and stick to it, like Mathew Horne’s Valere, Katy Wix’s Elise and especially Ryan Gage’s flamboyant fop Cleante. As often in a Foley show, though, it is design that regularly steals things, with Alice Power’s set putting in a performance of its own.