Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 28, 2018
Playwright: Molière (a new version by Justin Fleming)
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Simon Burke, Danielle Cormack, Catherine Davies, Ben Gerrard, Rebecca Massey, Hamish Michael, Anthony Taufa
Images by Brett Boardman
Alceste believes that the only truths are the ones in her own head, refusing to accept any behaviour she perceives to be contrary, and charges them all with hypocrisy. As fate would have it, her lover Cymbeline is no believer in fidelity, and when Alceste has to confront Cymbeline’s covert flirtations with several others, matters of the head and heart come to agonising conflict, in this tale about how we value our principles. Justin Fleming’s new adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope brings the play into our contemporary times, by immersing it deep into our obsession with popular culture, and even more significantly, by altering the genders of its key roles.
Alceste is now a woman, played by Danielle Cormack, a powerful and captivating presence, appropriately representing the influential position of our lead character, although a persistently sombre approach to the central role, does significantly diminish the humour of the piece. Cymbeline, previously Célimène, is now a male pop star, convincingly portrayed by Ben Gerrard who luxuriates in the part’s farcical narcissism. Sexuality is turned entirely fluid in this rendition of The Misanthrope, with every personality capable of gay and straight love, and orientation is no longer a concern.
The production looks vivid, absolutely glitzy at times, with Dan Potra’s very flashy costumes leaving a particularly strong impression, but the show is often underwhelming, unable to excite with its comedy or philosophies. Director Lee Lewis succeeds at making things modern and coherent, but an air of banality does, unfortunately, pervade.
Passion for one’s beliefs, is often the propulsion that moves us to greater planes, but it is perhaps more exigent than ever, that we should learn as societies, to accommodate the opinions of others at these very fractious times. Unable to reconcile her disdain for all that is dishonest and insincere, Alceste is increasingly isolated, ultimately left only with a doctrine that has achieved nothing. It is a huge challenge, to hold on to what is right, yet able to negotiate all the contrarians that inevitably surround. To find the answer to our peace is difficult, but imperative.