If you were planning a great night out at the theatre today, you might well hesitate before choosing a French play that had its premier several centuries ago. After all, the Misanthrope by Moliere was first performed in 1666 – the year of the Great Fire of London. But a new English version, showcased at the Polish Hearth Club in South Kensington last week, rekindled this classic tale of high society morals, bringing effortless sparks of freshness and modernity to the stage.
The tone was set from the opening scene, which gently satirised shows like Made in Chelsea, as bright young things greeted one another under the disgruntled gaze of Alceste, the misanthropist of the title. Would world-weary Alceste reform his beloved, the flirt and social butterfly Celimene? Would he be able to see, with all his intelligence, that a bit of harmless banter does not necessarily make one shallow? Or is he right that our vapid culture is essentially corrupting?
The play proved that not much has changed in the last four hundred years. People are just as obsessed with appearances as they ever were, but there are still loving hearts out there if you have the time, or inclination, to look below the surface.
Helped by the elegant set, just right for a sparkling comedy of manners and designed by renowned artist Magdalena Rutkowska-Hunt, a talented company of actors had the audience on the edge of its seats for four nights. The play was staged at the Polish Hearth Club in South Kensington, opposite Imperial College (part of London University) and just down the road from the Natural History Museum. The Club is a great venue, with grand staircases, chandeliers, and a bar downstairs which is straight out of Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere.