Thon Man Moliere
20th May – 11th June
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
In his parting words to the public as Artistic Director of the Lyceum in Edinburgh, Mark Thomson says, with a serious sense of self-satisfaction – after commissioning & seeing to fruition a play on the 17th century comic playwright, Moliere, by Scottish Makar, Liz Lochhead – that the result was, ‘something horribly, wittily, human.’ But its more than that. It is pastiche brought to perfection, a traditional model infused with fresh insights & ideas. It is history remembered & resurrected &, of course, refined.
This is not Lochhead’s only flirtation with Moliere. Her first effort broke her into the Caledonian consciousness after she translated and adapted his masterwork Tartuffe in 1985: premiering at the Lyceum in ’87. The translation was into choicest broad Scots, & followed in a long line of Scots translations of Moliere, such as Hector MacMillan’s ‘The Hypochondriack’ (from Le Malade Imaginaire) & Robert Kemp’s ‘The Laird o Grippy’ (from The Miser). There is something about Moliere & the Scottish psyche that just, well, fits. In a 1790 letter from Ellisland, Rabbie Burns, while requesting certain books to be sent to him, invites, ‘a good copy, too, in French, of Moliere I much want. Any other dramatic authors in that language I want also.’ With these two bedfellows – Scottish writers & Moliere – must be added the Scots language, creating a menage a trois that stimulates all our affections, whether writer, player, or audience. Of Lochhead’s contribution to the gryphon, Thon Man Moliere‘s leading lady, Siobhan Redmond, gleefully recognizes that Lochhead’s Scots, ‘sounds like real life only better…. with a much faster beating heart, singing on a higher note.‘
Thon Man Moliere is a pseudo-biography of the man & his, what Lochead told the Mumble, ‘harlequin-chequered life of ironies, ups & downs, successes & failures, of Paris & the provinces, of plaudits & penury, of patronage lavished & patronage brutally & arbitarily withdrawn.’ Her leading man, Jimmy Chisholm added, ‘Thon Man Moliere isn’t a history play, its about these completely made-up characters out of some facts of Molier’s life… its not just a knock about Moliere comedy its not like that at all, its about the life & the stresses & the darkness & the things that surrounded that man & that company while they were trying to produce very, very funny pieces of theatre.’
The story revolves around the sexual dynamics between Moliere (Chisholm), his leading actress & company-boss Madeleine Bejart & her 16 year-old daughter Menou (Sarah Miele), who may-or-might-not-have-been Moliere’s. This causes some dramatic tension, especially when Moliere & Miele get in on & have a couple of bairns themselves. Chisholm & Redmond work wonderfully well together, a sign of a lifetime friendship that has finally burst with some magic onto the stage. Redmond plays a fantastic Madeleine, & it seems that Lochhead had her in mind when writing Thon Man, telling the Mumble, ‘She’s a close friend, she’s like family & I wrote this play hoping but not thinking she would play Madelaine in it.‘ Just as in real life, Redmond’s class on the stage is reflected by Madeleine, & the part could well be a career-defining moment for Redmond, for she is brilliant in a brilliant play.
Watching Thon Mon is a rare treat, a totally immersive experience which wings one’s thought-doves back to 17th century France with the loftiest ease. With Racine dipping into the plot from time to time, alongside some rather ‘excuisite alexandrians,‘ amidst an elegant set the colourful costumes leap from a monochrome stage – this is tragicomedy after all. Indeed, I loved Lochhead’s terse descriptions of tragedy – ‘any eegit can write that sublime shite’ – & comedy ‘everything is a mess / it gets worse / it all gets sorted out / there’s a happy ending.‘ These words are symptomatic of the delineating predilection of modern poets writing for other poets – in this incarnation Lochhead is, at times, a playwright writing for other playwrights. Luckily there is enough rough & ready realism & colloquial cocksurity to please all who are to be entertained.
Thon Man Moliere is not just about the playwrights, but about his illustrious company too – all of whom are interestingly deep characters in their own right, who interact with each other electrically, most of whom end up in bed with each other at some point. I enjoyed them all, especially the scenes when they were rehearsing a play – brilliant flies on walls on walls kinda thing. Steven McCicoll’s Gros-Rene du Parc was a classic larger-than-life lovey-darling, while Lochhead’s inextinguishable Feminism swarms out of the mouth of Du Parc’s wife, Therese, played by Nicola Ropy. Molly Innes, as Toinette the maid, keeps everything together , I always welcomed to the stage, while James Anthony Pearson as Michael Baron delivered the best lines, when he described his double-jointed magical music-box debut for King Louis XIV, bubbles of phantasie delivered with addictively watchable precision. Of them all, Sarah Miele was simply divine. Winner of this year’s Bafta Scotland New Talent Award, while all other characters came to us fully evolved, with hardly a change in temperament, Miele’s Menou blossomed from an innocent rose-sketching lassie, to a twice pregnant, penis-drawing actress of some quality. Miele steered this arc like the captain of a 17th century sloop traversing the Cape of Good Hope.
As I watched Thon Man Moliere, I was sensing I was watching a classic. Alright, it is a regurgitation, but it is also a rejuvenation & one that is immensely entertaining. Listening to Lochhead’s lingua franca is like being down a pub in Cumbernauld just before the beers kick in – that hour or two when everyone in the pub is funny & hilarious & full of wit. High-brow but low-dealt – its perfectly pitched & I reckon Moliere himself would be more than proud.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen