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Saturday, 5 September 2009

Derek Griffiths in The Miser at The Royal Exchange

Admittedly, watching a couple of hours of French farce perched atop a bar-stool is not everyone's idea of a great night out. But don't let this put you off; Helena Kaut-Howson's production of Moliere's classic play L'Avare is well worth seeing.

First things first: dinner. As the play is on at The Royal Exchange, then the obvious venue for food is Grinch, perennial favourite of mine and spookily quiet on this wet Wednesday night. Any pizza is £5 between 5 and 7pm, and cocktails are a bargaintastic £3.75, so theatre-goers can fortify themselves for the night of culture ahead at very reasonable cost (just as well, with the price of tickets at The Royal Exchange).

On to the play itself. Moliere was roughly contemporary with Shakespeare, writing just 60 or so years later, but with a greater emphasis on farcical wit and wordplay than his better known English counterpart. The comedy has stood the test of time, translated and updated in a sympathetic manner that retains the feeling of the original but for a modern audience.

The play tells the story of Harpagon, an elderly gentleman who believes in counting every penny, and loves his precious money far more than he cares for his long-suffering children; indeed, he has every intention of marrying them off at great profit. He himself has fallen in love, with a young woman who predictably enough has caught the eye of his own son.

Cue lots of slapstick humour of the falling-about variety, culminating in a finale that gently mocks Shakespeare's fondness for shipwrecks and mistaken identities. The cast is superb: Derek Griffiths (an older, slightly scarier of the one you remember from your childhood) is simply magnificent, and the appearance of Helen Atkinson-Wood prompted me to whisper to my husband in joyous and fairly loud manner "It's MRS MIGGINS! From MRS MIGGINS' PIE SHOP!!!"

There are plenty of nice touches in the staging, such as the great clouds of dust constantly coming off Harpagon's servants, and the frankly disgusting rags that he himself strides around in. The play is short (2 hours including interval), funny, and there is simply no reason to not go and see it.

The Miser is on at The Royal Exchange until 3rd October 2009. For more details, visit

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