Review: Molière or The League of Hypocrites, Finborough Theatre

“This man Molière, is he dangerous?
‘He is Satan himself'”

I hadn’t originally intended to see Molière or The League of Hypocrites at the Finborough Theatre due to a packed festive schedule but reconsidered after a gap opened up this afternoon and a couple of realisations occurred to me: having never seen a Molière play before I figured I may as well see one about him before going to see The Misanthrope next week, and also Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The White Guard which arrives at the National Theatre in February, so I thought what the heck and swung on down to SW10.

Explicitly about the French playwright Molière, a huge success in the court of Louis XIV until his plays started to make an enemy of the Church, which devotes its considerable energies to discrediting him by any means possible and ruining him. The play then follows Molière as he struggles to maintain “his integrity under a repressive regime”, a point made all the more poignant by the fact that Bulgakov was writing in Stalin’s Russia, suffering much the same treatment and risking it all by writing such plays.

Given the limitations of space, what this production achieves in terms of creating completely different atmospheres with the minimum of effort, and some beautifully judged costuming, was nothing short of miraculous: the shift from decadent palace to austere cathedral was particularly effective and Blanche McIntyre’s direction should be commended, although the use of Latin in the key final scene was a little alienating for those of us who did not receive a classical education. The acting was mostly strong: Paul Brendan’s turns as the court fool and Molière’s faithful companion were both effective and Gyuri Sarossy’s louche Louis XIV exuded just the right kind of playfulness and arrogance. Elsewhere I found the relative youth of much of the company a bit distracting and resulted in some miscast roles. And as the titluar playwright, I’m afraid I was a little disappointed by Justin Avoth who struggled to mine any of the requisite depths in order to engage us in Molière’s fate.

All in all, I found this to be slightly disappointing: not all bad, but in the end, not as strong a play as I was expecting, given the circumstances in which it was produced. Finally, it was an unfortunate matter of timing that with a start at 3pm and a 2 hour running time, I shared both my journey there and back with many, many Chelsea fans: not a pleasant experience and meant I had to wait 30 minutes for a tube home that wasn’t jam-packed. Saturday matinées should be booked with care here!

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