The School for Wives | Bell ShakespeareLeft – Harriet Dyer and John Adam. Photo – Brett Boardman.

"I know the Machiavellian tricks, the subtle games women play,

The secret codes, the decoy screens they use when they betray...
The young girl I'm going to marry has such total innocence,
She will be shielded completely from all male influence."

Every year or two Bell Shakespeare utilises the best of its creative talent to produce (to great acclaim) a non Shakespearian play. For their national tour in 2012 the company have combined old wit with contemporary Australian genius to bring us Molière's The School for Wives in a fresh translation by Justin Fleming.

Directed by Lee Lewis, this production was sharp, funny and intelligent. Inspired by 1920's Paris, the set (designed by Marg Horwell) was a moveable feast of screens and scaffolding in shades of black, white and grey. Black and white movie elements were used to show the passing of time and locations.

A contemporary of Shakespeare (to a degree – Molière wrote 50 years after his death) Molière was a newlywed when he wrote The School for Wives in 1662. His scathing wit comes through loud and clear in Fleming's translation. Although Fleming says in the program notes that he was "lucky with (the) French – almost everything translates, and most of directly", I confess I was engaged in an interval long discussion about how on earth he managed to make it rhyme so well whilst staying true to the original text. It was exceptional word smithing and I am in awe.

A small cast of eight were ably directed by Lewis to create the slick, farcical comedy. Harriet Dyer was delightful as the not so innocent Agnes, and gelled well with Meyne Wyatt. As Horace, Wyatt was suitably chipper, but suffered from opening night nerves and didn't appear as confident with the text as the rest of the cast.

As the daft and dim-witted servants Georgette and Alan, Alexandra Aldrich and Andrew Johnston provided much of the slapstick of the show. They were genuinely funny and had perfect timing.

As Arnolde, John Adams is undoubtedly the star of the show. Barely leaving the stage and carrying the bulk of the text, Adams repeatedly made the audience erupt in titters, giggles and all out laughter. As we witnessed Arnolde's "perfect" plan fall apart, we were entranced by every perfectly formed line, rhyme and over the top facial expression that Adams portrayed. In a large, complex role, this was exquisite acting.

If John Adams is the star, then Musician / Actor Mark Jones is the moon (to continue the allegory) that holds the production together. From the opening scene when he sits down at the upright piano, surrounded by symbols and percussion instruments, I knew we were in for a musical treat. Providing an underlying score and sound effects, with composition by Kelly Ryall, Jones's live playing added depth and completeness to the already great production. Nothing compares to live music, and the interaction between Jones and the other performers was engaging and lively.

The School for Wives is an intelligent, witty play. Easy to laugh at, with enough Australian twang to be familiar, Bell Shakespeare has another touring hit.

Bell Shakespeare presents
by Molière | translated by Justin Fleming

Directed by Lee Lewis

Venue: State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 11 – 14 July, 2012
Tickets: $75.00 – $25.00
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing 08 9484 1133

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