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Review: The Miser at Sydney Opera House

By Rosie Niven

A delightful farce about a tight-arse lacking in class. This is the description we are given by Bell Shakespeare of Justin Fleming’s newest Moliere adaptation The Miser, and from the moment the lights rise, we are given just that - DIrector Pete Evans presents us with an easy-to-digest farce about Harpagon (John Bell), a skinflint so mean he would steal flies from a blind spider.

Justin Fleming has successfully brought Moliere into the 21st Century with this piece about greed centered on the nouveau-riche. With the presence of iPads and lines like “totes awks”, Fleming puts a modern twist on this classic while still giving a respectful nod to the play’s French roots. Anna Tregloan’s design integrates smoothly with the text: timeless and vibrant costumes and set with modern glass boxes and classic golden walls create a world where the contemporary and traditional stand hand in hand.

More nods to the traditional farce are found in Pete Evans’ direction, with actors appearing behind multiple doors, returning with an extra prop to signify a new character, and tip toeing around the stage with the chaise lounge for an excruciating period of time only to place it down centimetres from where it was picked up. While it is clear why these moments have been included in the production, many of them fell flat, and scenes that were clearly meant to stand as a punchline were responded to with a light chuckle rather than the comic uproar needed to drive this play along.

Although much of Bell Shakespeare’s publicity material focused solely on John Bell and his return to the Bell stage after a long absence, it is in fact the others on stage with the renowned actor that truly shine. In particular, Jessica Tovey as the witty Valere (Harpagon’s daughter’s secret lover), and Sean O’Shea as the hilarious assistant La Fleche. Michelle Doake’s portrayal of the exuberant and manipulative Frosine was perfection at every moment - successfully hitting each comedic note both vocally and physically, Doake elevated scenes and brought the production back to life where at times it seemed to drag on. Aside from publicity, it is clear why Bell has been chosen for this starring role, and his characterisation of the cheap and selfish miser left little to be sympathised with. However, amongst the vibrant energy and strong vocals of the rest of the actors, many of Bell’s lines were lost before they reached the rest of the audience.

Bell Shakespeare’s first cab off the rank for 2019 is an enjoyable production that highlights some of the most joyous elements of the classic farce and as Evans mentioned, allows the audience a chance to just laugh after numerous dark shows in 2018 for the theatre company. It is a skilful art to create a timeless space that reminds us that the themes of The Miser have, and will continue to have, great significance. What’s missing from this production that has all the elements for success is a liveliness to help us through those longer scenes, and to keep us enthralled for the whole two hours.

Off the back of other successful Moliere/Fleming works, this audience filled with high expectations were left wanting more.

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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