BBC Radio 3, 10 March 2013
Broadcast live in front of an audience at Powis Castle, North Wales,
this English Touring Theatre/ Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse proved great fun. Roger McGough's text offered
a dazzling array of rhymes, while providing manifold opportunities for comedy. I especially liked the way in which
the servant DuBois (Neil Caple, speaking in a broad Lancashire accent) searched desperately for the appropriate phrase
to complete a rhyme, even resorting to made-up words when his existing vocabulary had been exhausted.
However Gemma Bodinetz's production (restaged for radio by Pauline Harris)
had a serious point to it. Tiring of the layers of linguistic artificiality that bedevil his world Alceste (Colin
Tierney), resolved to tell the truth about people by speaking in prose rather than verse. What he said was often
brutally true: Oronte (Daniel Goode) was an egotist and an appalling versifier, as he delivered his fourteen-line
sonnet in exaggerated tones, full of meaningless cadences and stage-whispers. On the other hand, we wondered
whether Alceste's criticisms were morally justifiable. While the other characters might be victims of their
humours (Acaste (George Potts) and Citandre (Leander Deeny) were appalling fops), they were also harmless. If Alceste
had thought more deeply about those around him, perhaps he might have moderated his judgments.
Philante (Simon Coates) made it his business to point out Alceste's faults to his face; but he came across as a busybody, the kind of person whose smug judgments were likely
to be ignored rather than appreciated. Consequently Alceste became more and more of lost
soul, convinced of the rightness of his judgment yet unable to make much headway in a society committed to the idea of surface.
It was hardly surprising that he should want to retire from the world and live alone.
Celimene (Zara Tempest-Walters) was typical of the world Alceste
wants to reject. An outwardly attractive character, bestowing her linguistic as well as physical charms on
all her suitors, she refused to commit herself to anyone. While Alceste was undoubtedly
attracted to her, he could not abide her coquettishness. Try as they might, the two lovers came across as a perpetually
ill-matched couple; it seemed inevitable that they would eventually part. While understanding Alceste's point of view, we hardly sympathized with him. In Coates'
performance, he seemed as much a victim of his obsession as the characters he criticized; a little give-and-take might have
helped him deal more successfully with those around him.
Although this production was great fun - with a clutch of memorable
performances supported by period music (by Peter Coyte) - it offered us no hope of future redemption. Everyone, it seemed,
was too much bound up with themselves to listen to one another.