After brief stints in Bath and Richmond, this loose adaptation of Molière’s 1688 classic by Sean Foley and Phil Porter has landed in the West End – and it is a riotous gag-fest from start to finish.
In fact, it is so keen to cram in the laughs you may actually gag, but it does have its funny moments. It sees Griff Rhys Jones, in his first stage role in seven years, take on the part of Molière’s tight-fisted protagonist Harpagon, who wants to protect his money and marry his son and daughter off to rich but highly inappropriate people.
In his stage debut, Lee Mack plays his servant Jacques who performs a variety of roles, often ad-libbing as the slapstick comes thick and fast.
The role also involves a number of energetic costume changes as Mack becomes Harpagon’s coachman, chef and sommelier and displays quite a skill for physical comedy; there are few moments when he doesn’t invent a line or throw in a few of his own.
Any nuances in the text are gleefully thrown out of the window in a laugh-a-minute night that feels like a pantomime, complete with topical gags about the recent budget, Sports Direct, trickle-down economics and (believe it or not) Matt LeBlanc.
Mack clearly revels in the part and is a skilled comedian who has the audience on his side. It’s like he can do anything, telling the audience during one particularly uncomfortable physical moment for his character: “I have got a big monologue coming up and this isn’t helping”.
Rhys Jones also possesses impeccable comic timing and it’s great to see him back on stage.
On the night I was in, the topical jokes went down a treat. Rhys Jones’ dig “why must young people go on about their feelings, nobody cares” drew especially big chuckles from the largely middle-aged audience (including me).
If you think there’s more to Molière than puerile humour, I’d avoid this show. I personally found the modern-day allusions slightly strange when there is little attempt to grasp even the slightest smidgen of the play’s occasionally serious treatment of its themes of avarice, greed and class oppression.
But if you’re after a relaxed evening of silliness and slapstick, this is just the ticket.
The Miser is at The Garrick Theatre, London until June 3