The Miser

The Lyric Theatre presents Molière's 'The Miser' in a translation-adaptation by David Johnston.

The Lyric Theatre presents Molière's 'The Miser' in a translation-adaptation by David Johnston.

The Lyric Theatre presents Molière's 'The Miser' in a translation-adaptation by David Johnston.

The Lyric Theatre presents Molière's 'The Miser' in a translation-adaptation by David Johnston.

The phrase that comes irresistibly to mind when watching The Miser is ‘rollicking romp’. David Johnston’s new translation-adaptation of L’Avare is the Lyric’s latest production of Molière, directed by Dan Gordon with Andy Gray in the title role. The production manages to include passing references to French neoclassicism in the set design, along with Commedia dell’Arte, pantomime and music hall, and the various elements combine to create an energetic interpretation of the text that relies on physical comedy and audience interaction. There is a sense – both from the performance and from early reviews – that the production is now hitting its stride. Certainly, some members of the cast are more experienced and confident in this style of performance than others – and Gray, Tumelty and Condron are clearly providing the lead – but everyone is engaging in the slapstick comedy. The stock characters – young lovers, old lover and miser, wily servant, cunning procuress, and stage villain – lend themselves to this style of performance.

The Lyric Theatre presents 'The Miser'.The plot centres on Harpingon (originally Harpagon), the eponymous miser and senex amator who is comically obsessed with hoarding money and whose vanity leads him to plan a marriage to the beautiful young Marianne, the girl his son Tristram is in love with. To save money, he denies his daughter Eloise a dowry, and seeks to marry her to the elderly Fraser who will take her without one; she is really in love with Alexander, the dispossessed young nobleman posing as Harpingon’s servant. Of course the comedy finally reveals the true identities of Alexander, Fraser and Marianne, and the young lovers are happily united in matrimony.

The performance opens with the servant, played by Michael Condron, directly addressing the audience and introducing the scene. As he draws near the end of his exposition the lights go out on stage, so he clambers up along the wall to the electricity meter, situated in the auditorium, and drops in some coins. In the interval, Condron – who plays multiple roles – returns to the stage to clean and grumble to the audience, borrowing 50p from a spectator at the end of the interval when the lights go out again. All this comic foregrounding of Harpingon’s parsimony continues with his entry, carrying a full chamber pot; he spies the cheese in the mousetrap and, taking it out, eats it, offering some to the audience. When it falls into the chamber-pot he pauses, holding the spectators with the possibility that he will take it out and eat it.

Stuart Marshall’s muted set with its four symmetrical exits on each side is suggestive of Serlio’s 16th century designs, while still blending into the architecture of the Elmwood Hall, and it is skilfully lit by Conleth White. The costumes are lavish, with comic detailing, such as decorated cod-pieces worn by the foppish Tristram and by Harpingon in his serenade to Marianne, and the music and sound design are appropriately anachronistic. Although the presence of Harpingon and Fraser in Northern Ireland suggests the historical moment of the Scottish merchants moving into Belfast, the play is not set in any defined period and the music ranges from a 1920s pre-show to the lovers’ ballads and Harpingon’s homage to Presley.

The Lyric Theatre presents 'The Miser'.Molière’s plays use the structures of French neoclassicism but break the rigid decorum of that aesthetic, drawing on a wide range of classical and contemporaneous sources to create witty comedies of manners that satirise human weakness. Harpingon’s meanness delights and entertains the audience, but it also destroys his relationships: his home is a miserable place and his children long for his death, and he in turn regards them as enemies who would part him from his gold. When, in the final scenes of the play, his daughter pleads with him to hear from Alexander before passing judgement on their love, reminding him that Alexander saved her from drowning, he responds that he wishes he had left her to die. Even in the midst of the comedy, this line briefly silenced the audience. Satire is usually understood to have a moral principle; it seeks to ridicule foolishness and vice, and the comedy of The Miser is tempered with a sense of its potential for tragedy. The tragi-comedy is largely subsumed into physical comedy and broad characterization in this production, which is a pity; however, it is a very entertaining production and the director and cast have clearly addressed its early weaknesses to create an engaging, enjoyable show.

Lisa Fitzpatrick lectures in Drama at the University of Ulster. 

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Miser by Molière, translated and adapted by David Johnston

5 May - 29 May; touring 31 May - 9 July, 2010

Produced by Lyric Theatre
In Lyric Theatre at Elmwood Hall

Directed by Dan Gordon

Composer and Musical Direction: Neil Martin

Costume Design: Diana Ennis

Set Design: Stuart Marshall

Lighting Design: Conleth White

With: Paul Boyd, Richard Clements, Michael Condron, Andy Gray, Sarah Lyle, Julie Maxwell, Richard Orr and Katie Tumelty.