Will Stone reviews The Miser at the Garrick Theatre, London WC2
SEVENTEENTH-century French playwright Moliere’s classic comedy The Miser gets a hammed-up, slapstick revamp in this production starring Griff Rhys Jones and stand-up Lee Mack in his West End debut.
Even by Shakespearean standards, the plot is more than a little far-fetched.
Tyrannical tight-wad Harpagon (Rhys Jones), the miserly protagonist of the play’s title, wishes to marry the young woman his son is trying to court while at the same time trying to marry off his daughter to a wealthy older man, despite her love for someone else.
As if that weren’t enough to keep up with, this adaptation by Sean Foley and Phil Porter introduces a further comic plot twist in that Harpagon tries to marry his dandyish son Cleante (Ryan Gage) to the mother of Mariane, his decidedly unwilling prospective bride.
He’s betrothed to her solely as a financial investment, underscoring the theme of love versus money underpinning the play.
But, seemingly, this addition to the plot’s convolutions is merely to take full comedic advantage of the confusion between who is marrying whom and the breakneck pace of the comedy, engrossing to begin with, quickly becomes tiresome by the second act.
Lee Mack as the servant Jacques is an amusing foil to his master Harpagon and he loses no opportunity to break down the fourth wall. Whether contrived or the product of improvisation, Mack fluffs a line and extricates himself with the excuse that “I have to translate it from French.”
A lukewarm review by the Guardian’s Michael Billington also gets a mention and there are more than a few nods to current politics, with servant La Fleche (Saikat Ahamed) joking that Harpagon is “the worst employer I’ve ever had and I’ve worked for Sports Direct.”
The no-holds barred production has its moments, particularly when Rhys Jones, a great Harpagon, amuses as he frequently refers to, and builds a rapport with, an imaginary banker in the front row.
He probably does so every night, but it’s a great running gag.