The Misanthrope

Apr 10 2024 | By More

★★★★☆    Well judged

St Ninian’s Church Hall: Mon 8 – Sat 13 Apr 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ production of The Misanthrope at St Ninian’s Church Hall is a clever and thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre.

Molière’s 17th – century satire (presented here in its 2013 Roger McGough version) tells the story of Alceste, a poet who wearies of the hypocrisy of polite society and determines to tell only the unvarnished truth.

Danny Farrimond (Oronte) and Colin McPherson (Alceste). Pic John McLinden

Not only does this cause problems when he is called upon to give an honest appraisal of the poetry of an influential if thin-skinned gentleman, it is in conflict with Alceste having set his cap at the young widow Célimène – the centre of a group of precisely the type of snobbish flatterers he professes to despise.

The depiction of the search for celebrity, of carefully curated self-images, and of a desire for meaningless approbation, certainly has a contemporary relevance, although – as with his other adaptations – McGough has left it in the original period. Director John McLinden has made the decision to move the setting forward a couple of centuries to Parisian bohemian café society which – the odd jarring chatting reference to ‘the court’ aside – works very well.

While perhaps not as full of zip and zing as his version of Tartuffe, for example, McGough’s translation is gratifyingly full of fun, Franglais and forced rhymes – although Alceste, despite being a poet, decides to speak only in prose. Except for when he rhymes by accident, of course.


A puzzling thing about the play is how exactly how to treat the central character. Alceste and Célimène, unlike the stock characters of contemporary satires, are much more nuanced. Accordingly, it is unclear whether Alceste is a principled figure taking a heroically doomed stand or an object of fun.

In truth, he is both, and often at the same time. Colin McPherson provides a sympathetic portrayal, obviously sincere and clearly wrestling with his conscience, but still rather pompous and not a little ridiculous.

David McCallum (Philinte); Caitlin Christmas (Eliante); Kirsty Doull (Celimene); Foreground; Dee Black (Acaste); Stuart Mitchell (Clitendre). Pic Edith Peers.

Kirsty Doull’s Célimène is similarly complex; relishing being the centre of attention, and seemingly manipulative, but in reality simply trying to make her way in the world as best she can.

David McCallum’s Philinte is also a nicely rounded characterisation, always with an eye to the main chance but fundamentally loyal to Alceste. Caitlin Christmas gives Célimène’s cousin Eliante an honest, compassionate quality.

Danny Farrimond, as Alceste’s rival Oronte, has both a brittle self-regard and a wounded quality that once again elevates the character above the stereotype; Penny Cobham also shows the human side of the outwardly conniving Arsinoé.

potent double act

The more straightforwardly comic characters are also well performed. Dee Black and Stuart Mitchell are a potent double act as Célimène’s aristocratic suitors – one apparently posh and English, the other equally well-heeled but decidedly Edinburgh. Derek Marshall’s turn as Alceste’s servant is also beautifully well-judged and expertly timed.

Good use is made of the acting space, with particular attention paid to the cast’s relationship with the audience. From the opening scene – where the cast form a tableau along Finlay Black’s effective set – it is all expertly judged. The sympathetic lighting design of Ian Cunningham, and McLinden’s sound design (both operated by Simon Furnivall), add greatly to the atmosphere. Notoriously, the play lacks any real kind of resolution, but this is well handled here.

Perhaps at times it is a shade too polite itself; some more obvious relish of the more ludicrous language might have been welcome. Overall, however, there is a pleasing rhythm to the exchanges and the pace is just about ideal, in a production that is extremely satisfying.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
St Ninian’s Church Hall, 40 Comely Bank, EH4 1AG
Monday 8 – Saturday 13 April 2024
Mon-Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat 1.00 pm & 6.00 pm
Tickets and details. Book here.

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Danny Farrimond (Oronte), David McCallum (Philinte), Caitlin Christmas (Eliante), Kirsty Doull (Celimene), Penny Cobham (Arsinoe), Colin McPherson (Alceste) and in the foreground, Dee Black (Acaste) and Stuart Mitchell (Clitendre). Pic: John McLinden.


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