Tuesday, September 04, 2012


Mercury Youth Theatres at the Mercury Theatre Colchester

Adapted by Miles Malleson from Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme

Moliere's comedy-ballet was first staged when Charles II and Sun King Louis XIV were at the top of the social order on either side of the Channel. It's been popular ever since; snobbery and social climbing are as funny now as they were then.

But I'm not sure how well the plot transplants to the 21st Century. Even Miles Malleson's faithful version is sixty years old now. Do we still aspire to be persons of quality ? And would we hire experts – life coaches perhaps – to help us achieve our aspirations ? Don't the red-tops tell us that the aristos of today are more likely to aspire to partying with the plebs ? And learn Estuary English rather than elocution ?
Fascinating questions raised by the Mercury Youth Group's very enjoyable romp through the fun and the farce of Monsieur Jourdain's doltish progress towards nobility, directed by Mercury Company actor and director Adrian Stokes. The plot remains French, and Seventeeth Century, but the costumes, and Amy Yardley's impressive design [tiger skin rug, zebra chaise longue, classical columns and swagged drapes] blend the world of Versailles and the present day, as does Lilli Green's song.
The cast of twenty or more youngsters clearly had a ball putting this colourful piece together, and in amongst them are some very promising actors.

Jourdain, our hero, the part Moliere wrote for himself, is beautifully characterised by James Palmer-Higgins: an accomplished comic actor, channelling something of Corden, something of Crawford [Michael, not Joan]. Physically, vocally, just right, with a good sense of timing. His common-as-muck wife is Charlotte Kirkpatrick-Luke, always trying to bring her old man down to earth, and doing a lot of shrieking.
Ben Nash makes the most of the irascible Philosopher – excellent enunciation and a strongly grounded character; Liam Bottazzi's Tailor, gorgeously apparrelled, stands out, too, as do the fantastically dressed flunkeys [Daniel Jones and Harry John Runicles]. Sophie Pike makes a poised and elegant Marchioness, with Elliot Sargent as her Count.

The young suitor to Mary Dodds' Lucille is a very amusing Tom Tanner, matched by his serving man, William Jonas. Tom gets to pretend to be the son of the Grand High Turk in part two, with William as his interpreter, wringing every laugh possible from a wayward beard.

Pleased to see that Moliere's best joke still works, and that the wooers' quartet and the farcical finale retain their comic genius. The obligatory Turkish divertissement is certainly colourful, and gives everyone a chance to shine in glittery slippers.

An interesting choice for the Mercury's talented and intrepid youth group; their stylish performance keep us entertained with a unique blend of satire, farce, intrigue and romance.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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