Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Thon Man Molière is Liz Lochhead’s witty, irreverent imagining of a particularly awkward period in the infamous French playwright’s life. Fêted by the King, and finally achieving recognition for his work, Molière seems determined to self-sabotage, persisting with his play, Tartuffe, despite warnings that its depiction of a corrupt clergyman might not sit well with the highly religious monarch on whose patronage he depends. And that’s not all: he compounds the precariousness of his position by falling in love with and marrying a young woman who, it appears, may very well be his daughter.
It’s a subject ripe for comedy, and Lochhead’s script fizzes with quips and drollery. It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times, not least when contemporary Scottish dialect is employed in response to seventeenth century mores. The performances are uniformly strong, with Jimmy Chisholm managing to tread the fine line between vulnerable and repulsive in his depiction of the egotistical Molière, so that we do actually care what happens to him, even when his misfortunes are richly deserved. Siobhan Redmond is fantastic too, imbuing Madeleine Béjart, Molière’s sometime lover, with a dignity and credibility beyond the ‘tart with a heart’ archetype.
The set, mostly backstage at a theatre, is all muted monochrome, with the unpainted backs of flats on view. The costumes, glorious peacock-confections in the main, stand out in contrast to this, conveying perfectly the tawdry glamour of the theatre, and how it shines against the pall of ordinary life.
If there’a a quibble, it’s with the dialogue. Most of the time, it’s superb: funny and acerbic and nicely paced. But, now and again, we are fed great lumps of exposition, clumsily forced into a conversation, most of which we just don’t need. There’s no real benefit, for example, in giving the audience a detailed plot summary of one of Molière’s plays; it’s unnecessary and just slows things down.
But all in all, this is a lovely play: a uniquely Scottish take on a slice of French comedy.