The Theatreguide.London Review
Garrick Theatre Spring 2017
This new adaptation from Moliere has been touring for a while. But instead of polishing itself up for London it seems to have run out of whatever energy it may have started with.
At times it resembles the last act of Michael Frayn's Noises Off, about actors at the end of a long tour, when nobody likes the play or anybody else and nobody really gives a damn.
The actors here are all talented professionals, so there is a level below which they will not sink, and there are occasional moments that work. But this is really as close to an unfunny comedy as you are likely ever to encounter.
Moliere's play is about how the son and daughter of the titular money-grubber foil his plans to marry them off to old-but-rich suitors in order to be with the more appropriate people they love.
Director Sean Foley and Phil Porter have adapted the play, largely by trimming the original's verbiage and inserting some contemporary references. (There aren't any actual jokes about budget statements and zero-hour contracts, the mere mention being presumed funny enough.)
The level of the other interpolated humour can be judged by the fact that one character is given a speech defect so that her reference to someone's rank comes out 'wank'.
As the title character Griff Rhys Jones sometimes seems lost onstage, wandering about and never really relating to anyone else. Indeed, no one in the cast ever seems to look at whoever they're speaking to, contributing to the sense that they've all given up and are just going through the motions.
Jones and Lee Mack as a bolshie servant are both experienced stand-up comics, and the production's most successful moments come when they take turns interacting with the audience, both successfully making comments to and about the front rows sound spontaneous and clever.
No one else in the cast needs naming and shaming except to note that the line that gets the biggest round of spontaneous applause is one that sounds like it began as an ad lib, about how nobody can hear the younger actors. (If they're aware enough of the problem to make a joke about it, why didn't they do something to fix it?)
These flaws are, as you may have spotted, all failures of direction, and Sean Foley, hitherto a trustworthy director of comedy, seems to have dropped the ball badly here.
The production desperately needs a guiding comic style, whether of period, panto-like artifice or simply speed and sparkle. But some in the cast try to play realistically while some are cartoons, some punch up their jokes while others swallow them, some notice the audience while others don't.
A couple of musical sequences come out of nowhere and leave no impression behind, and while occasional gags might work, the production has no overall comic tone or energy, but just lies there.
Nowhere is the basic directorial failure clearer than in several sequences of slapstick, which depend entirely on precise timing and choreography, but are repeatedly slow, mistimed and mis-staged (so that, for example, things that are supposed to fall on people's heads repeatedly miss them).
Cynics used to dismiss touring productions like this as 'good enough for the provinces'. But this Miser isn't, and certainly isn't up to West End expectations.
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