It is fair to say that theatre is at its most likeable when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sean Foley’s modern revival of The Miser, Moliere’s 1668 comedy, takes things one step further. That is to say, this play is only remotely likeable when it is openly mocking its own failings. The Miser is currently playing at the Garrick Theatre, where it has transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory, for a limited run.
The show enjoys a generous handful of stardust, with comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Lee Mack centre stage as Harpagon (the miser) and his servant Jacques respectively. Gavin and Stacey’s Matthew Horn also stars as Valere. Lee Mack, in particular, is in his element and clearly relishes the opportunity to ad lib. The most memorable moments of the evening occur when the play takes a backseat to his stand up wit.
Other highlights include the mangled vowels of Ellie White’s upper class accent as Marianne, and Andi Osho’s cheekiness as Frosine. Ryan Gage and Katy Wix are successful with their foppish and spoiled sibling act, as brother and sister Elise and Cleante.
The pacing is all over the place, with a very slow start to both acts. As a result, the gags don’t come anywhere near thick or fast enough, and the humour feels somewhat thin and strained. Things pick up towards the end of both acts with a few nicely choreographed set pieces that play to the cast’s comedic strengths.
The show is sprinkled with contemporary references throughout, from Sports Direct to trickle-down economics. With this heavy-handed modernisation, Foley pokes fun at the (perhaps obvious) target of the Conservative government and their programme of austerity. Although it’s not very effective, the experienced cast knowingly mock their own feeble attempts at satire, creating the few genuinely funny moments of the evening.
There are several musical numbers, the most enjoyable of which involves a supporting ensemble of Harpagon’s servants. The servants don’t appear at all until part way through act one, and continue to be underused. The action could have benefitted from more of their refreshingly understated background comedic value.
With all that said, The Miser appears to be graced with generous and appreciative audiences. There were hoots and good-natured jeers and spontaneous bursts of applause throughout. This show is more pantomime than play, with regular breaks for predictable bouts of ‘audience participation’ which go down well.
If you enjoy laughing at theatre, you may well enjoy the fun had by the cast of The Miser. But with such an experienced cast and such classic material, this production could have been so much more.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Tristram Kenton
The Miser plays at Garrick Theatre until 3 June 2017. Book tickets