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The Social Climber, by Paddy Gormley, after Moliere

Friday, 14 October, 2011

La Vie Parisienne

The Social Climber is an adaptation of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a play by Moliere from the 17th Century that isn’t often performed, partly, (so the press release says) because of its length and the fact that the opening half of the play is dedicated to the hero taking his lessons in music, dancing and fencing.

This version is remodelled, and in English, and is in the two-act form that 21st Century theatre-goers have become used to. So far, so good, but the play has also been recreated in terms of its language too and is written in a sort of short almost-rhyming couplets that you will either like (since it helps push the narrative forward) or hate (since it self-consciously draws attention to itself). I’m afraid I’m in the latter camp. Whatever the intention, it seemed to underscore a determination to play this production as panto.

There’s a big cast, many of whom seem intent on taking any opportunities that they are given to make a point about their skills (particulary Rhys Lawton as Covielle in the second half, and the unnamed dancer/recorder player from the Rona Hart school of dance) and good luck to them for that, but their material wasn’t great and despite everyone in the audience wanting to laugh, there really weren’t a lot of opportunities. The one set-piece that worked was the dance demonstration, which did have a point to make about formulaic ‘art’, and also provided a bonus in being funny too.

The plot concerns itself with a social climber, Monsieur Jourdain (Peter Saracen), son of a salesman though he may be, whose upwardly-mobile instincts mean that he won’t marry his daughter to anyone but a titled gentleman. At the same time, he is trying to seduce Dorimene (Lindsey Readman). He is taken for a ride on the second count, fleeced by his friend Count Dorante (Roger Sansom) who uses Jourdain’s money to conduct his own campaign of love. And of course, he is shown up for what he is by his daughter’s lover too (Cleonte, played by Phil Gerrard), who simply reappears following his rejection, now with a false beard, as the son of the Grand Turk. He awards his future father in law a grand but ridiculous title, and (of course) gets the girl (Lucille, Gabrielle Douglas) in the end.

Searching for ‘realism’ here isn’t going to do any good at all. This is a centuries old drama, recreated in a new form. The problem is that this production and the new form in which it is set seem riddled with psychological inconsistencies and so is possibly more confusing than the original.

The skeletal Jourdain (in his straggly wig and make-up looking oddly like a relative of the late Michael Jackson) summons little sympathy and his character is monotonously one-dimensional, as are most of the other characters here. Somewhere, deep down, points are being made about the nature of French society in the 17th century, about its need to escape from a world view in which accidents of birth are everything, and in which the nature of real accomplishment is undervalued.

The fact that Count Dorante successfully proposes to Dorimene, on the basis of his (fictitious) resources alone is surely one of those points. These though seem to be submerged beneath an attempt to make surface all too glittery. In making the idea of fun its goal, it seems to lose any wit that it might once have had.

Cast: Gabrielle Douglas – Lucile; Rosemary Francis – Music Master; Phil Gerrard – Cleonte; Rhys Lawton – Fencing Master and Covielle; Nadia Ostachinni – Nicole; Lindsay Readman – Dancing Master and Dorimene; Roger Sansom – Dorante; Peter Saracen – Jourdain; Jackie Skarvellis – Tailor and Philosophy Master; Maggie Turner – Madame Jourdain;

Corps de ballet – Juliet Barton, Jilli Crosby, Mary-Catherine Harvey, Remi Maeda, Anahita Talwar and Jenny Walser

Writer – Paddy Gormley; Director – Kenneth Michaels; Music: Gabrielle Douglas; Scenic Artist – John Dalton; Lighting – Edmund Sutton; Sound – Rowan Coupe; Choreography – Linzi Else and Lindsey Readman; Stage manager – Rosemary Francis; Wardrobe – Jennie Yates; Technician – Sarah Griffin

(c) Michael Spring 2011

reviewed 13 Oct 2011, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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