L-Marta Dusseldorp. Cover-John Gaden and Peter Carroll. Photos - Tracey Schramm
Despite teasing us with it’s near hits and misses The Bourgeois Gentleman never quite got off the ground.
Directed by the revered Jean-Pierre Mignon, this much-loved Moliere play focuses on the grandiose aspirations of Monsieur Jourdain (Peter Carroll) who embarks on a crash course in self improvement - driven by his aspiration to climb up the class ladder and capture the woman of his dreams - despite being married to the woman who treads on his reality.
In this aussie translation by Katharine Sturak, M. Jourdain has more money than sense and he spends most of it on learning ‘how to be cultured’. Jourdain throws money at lessons that are given by sychophants who hang off his finely tailored coattails – all lured by his capital and repelled by his crassness in equal measures. It is through them that Jourdain tries to learn how to bow correctly, how to appreciate grammar and how to appreciate music. Except of course that he doesn’t - and herein lies the humour. Or at least it is supposed to.
There were crescendos of comedy at times. Jourdain’s musically-timed makeover from a dressing gown clad nobody to highly stylised ‘laird’ was a memorable highlight of the play. And yet there were several lulls in this play (which lasted 2 hour and 40 minutes). The never-ending pseudo-ritual ceremony involving Carroll and his King Lear-esque descent into madness could easily been cut in half - the humour of the extravagant scene soon dulled through the length of it’s delivery.
Carroll however, brings waves of charisma to his portrayal of the aussie-larrikan-cum-fumbling-bumbling Jourdain and he balances this perfectly with a loveable dense quality that is much required for the role. Perhaps at times, Carroll pitches his performance too much towards the pantomime end of the spectrum, which threatens to jar a little, but nonetheless he ties the play together with endless energy.
The problem lies not with Carroll but in the translation, which appears confused between celebrating Australian colloquialisms and respecting the pathos of restoration. While the idea of celebrating Australian culture through this genre offers a unique twist to be applauded, the delivery lacked the strength to follow through with its assertion. At times, the translation came across as diluted and unconvincing - part aussie and part classic restoration - not helped by some actors remaining true to the aussie take on the matter, while others remained loyal to the context of restoration. Class differences in character dictated this divide, but nonetheless it would have been rewarding to see this interpretation of Moliere receive an unapologetically Australianised makeover across the board.
In a curious twist, The Actors Company almost inadvertently upstaged themselves every now and then. Many of the roles were so tiny that the unfulfilled presence of these actors weighed heavily on the stage at times. The Actors Company is of course by nature, an ensemble, and as such subscribes to the ‘there are no small parts…” philosophy. Yet in spite of this, I couldn’t help thinking about what a waste it was to see a talented actresses such as Deborah Mailman, play a court jester type with hardly any lines, drawing in the laughs only when she fell slapstick-style down the stairs.
Reviews are subjective things and it must be said, The Bourgeois Gentlemen did tickle the funny bone of other theatregoers on the night I saw it, with many of them in gales of laughter. But it just fell repeatedly short for me.
The lighting (Nick Schlieper), set (Dan Potra) and costumes (Julie Lynch) provided plenty of visual eye candy, which in a way sought to only highlight what a great success this play could so nearly, so very closely…almost have been.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
The Bourgeois Gentleman
In a new translation by Katherine Sturak
Venue: Sydney Theatre | 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Previews: 13,14,14,16 November at 8pm
Season: 17 November to 9 December 2006
Times: Mondays at 6:30pm, Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8pm; Matinees Wednesdays at 1pm (except 22 November) and Saturdays at 2pm
Tickets: $69/ $56 concession Matinee $62/$51 concession
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 / www.sydneytheatre.com.au