The Social Climber
Molière, adapted by Paddy Gormley from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
Logos Theatre Company
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
This seems to be a fairly free adaptation of Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme which changes the order of scenes and renders the prose text into what sounds like short-lined rhyming verse that sometimes gives it a panto-like quality that is not entirely inappropriate. Its language is modern, with M. Jourdain, the titular bourgeois, comparing his wife's face to 'a bus crash' and other contemporary references but this production keeps it in its original period.
It is played before scenic artist John Dalton's painted cloth of an elegant formal garden behind a balustrade though we are in a room furnished with screens, carpets and a brocade chaise longue and elegantly dressed in period with full wigs but the flutter wristed flourishes of these characters' courtesies place it in Dandini-land rather than offering the savage satire that underlies the text in its presentation of both hard-up aristocrat and pushy parvenu. It seems set to offer fun not social comment.
The play is not short of humour but there is an awkwardness about this production that blunts it, largely, I think, because it has not managed to find an homogenous style. Remembering its origins as a comédie-ballet, it opens with a danced entry that introduces all the characters. The "mugging" going on as each performer tries to suggest their character is a foretaste of what we are going to get as the play proceeds.
At the heart of it all Peter Saracen, as M. Jourdain, his jaw dropped in almost permanent surprise, flops around like a raddled Boy George. He makes little of the rhyming of his role and emphasises his doltishness by a delivery which suggest he the words just come out without really thinking what he is saying.. There is an odd touch that I thought was going to build into a running gag, of pulling up his breeches, but it doesn't outlast the early scenes, nor does a similar trick from Nadia Ostacchini's servant Nicole who at first persistently throws down a basket of washing and guffaws.
Jourdain's wife (Maggie Turner) switches between strongly expressed feeling to grimacings. Perhaps the intention of this rough acting is to label them as typical commedia dell' arte roles but, except for Roger Samson's plummy Baron Hard-Up-like Count (with a powdered face and painted eyebrows like those of Jourdain), the others tend to play more naturalistically, though Rosemary Francis as the Music Master is made to wave her arms as though conducting an orchestra, though not seriously conducting even when there is music. The Music teacher is matched by a much more natural Dancing Master (Lindsey Readman, also en travestie) perpetually adopting balletic turns and poses, though in this case she makes them part of his character. When Readman doubles as Dorimène, whom the Count hopes to marry, she plays her completely naturalistically, as does Gabrielle Douglas the Jourdains' daughter Lucile, Phil Gerrard her lover Cléonte (and his double as a Fencing Master) and Rhys Lawton Cleonte's valet.
To add to the stylistic mixture here is another intriguing oddity in the performance of the Philosophy Teacher, whom Jackie Skarvellis plays as a Chinese female, knitting needles in her hairdo and as ready to launch into kung fu as intellectual exploration; she also has another cameo as a female tailor in the opening scene, something which in this period setting does not ring true. The contribution of the ballet dancers of the Rona Hart School of Dance is yet another element which seems intended to be what can be got away with before the unsophisticated Jourdain, rather than suggest the court entertainment that Molière and Lully originally concocted.
Paddy Gormley's restructuring was apparently intended to bring the plot forward and make the opening acts more interesting. Since it was not really until after the interval that this production began to really hold my attention I fear the ploy was unsuccessful, at least in this presentation. It was one of those cases where the actors may have been enjoying themselves more than I was but there were many in the audience who were enthusiastic and clearly having a good time.
"The Social Climber" continues at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 29th October 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton