Sometimes you take one look at a stage set and misgivings set in. How are the actors going to work round this vertical layer cake of a pastel fortress which hogs half the stage? It’s like sitting-room farce with the doors plonked centre stage. The décor shrieked kitsch prison, and the actors had to gallop round obstacles to get near one another. A whiff of static set-piece hovered in the air.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, it was a perfectly jolly evening with one or two scenes that really soared. Director Jean-Pierre Vincent has pulled together a strong cast, with big name Daniel Auteuil in the flagship role of Arnolphe. Auteuil is really a cinema actor – he hasn’t trodden the boards for nearly 10 years – so audience goodwill was riding high.
The Arnolphe he serves up feels oddly like an aggregate of familiar Molière “heroes”. Dressed as a dapper Guy Fawkes, full of moustachioed flourishes, Auteuil entertains royally without exposing the role’s subversive underlying violence or its subtle tricks and retreats. He’s an engaging, restless presence with brio and comic flair, physically yanking his heart with each set of palpitations, racked by growing sexual frustration, exasperated beyond belief by his foolish servants. But his diction and delivery of the verse leaves much to be desired and the interpretation is ultimately overblown.
Agnès, the ward he’s had reared in extreme ignorance to guarantee him the faithful and docile wife of his dreams, gets a braver interpretation by young actress Lyn Thibault. The eye candy is all there but her face is closed and wooden, her voice bell-like and robotic. She pushes comic dullness so far it starts to grate, then suddenly bursts free, turns the tables on him and shows us she is finally mistress of herself, a woman and no longer an object.
There are some nice touches, such as the wrinklies on the bench watching as young lust finally comes good. But overall, the register feels safe, even dull. Noble sentiments play out as moralising, the comic dénouement is a bit laboured. Not vintage Vincent.
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