Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, run ended; Perth Theatre until Fri 9 May
When Molière’s L’école des femmes was translated as Let Wives Tak Tent by Robert Kemp in 1948, it set in motion a half-century tradition of Scottish reworkings of the 17th century French playwright. Like Quebec’s Michel Tremblay in the 1990s, Molière was adopted as one of our own. What struck a chord with audiences was not only the vigour of the Scots language, but the broad, manner in which it was performed. Duncan Macrae and Rikki Fulton have taken lead roles, both performers having an innate feel for Molière’s style of direct address.
Now, 50 years after Kemp, Liz Lochhead has returned to the play and given it a translation that matches the rhyming couplets of the original. This she does without the clunkiness of many English versions, allowing her poetry to skip along playfully, teasing the audience as it swings from high-falutin’ to common-as-muck.
In Graham McLaren’s production for Theatre Babel, the cast does an impressive job at keeping the demanding text in the air, not least Kevin McMonagle who is hardly off the stage as the ridiculous Arnolphe, an old man with a plan to wed his virginal ward. He cuts a suitably sleazy figure, one we’re happy to laugh at when his scheme inevitably goes wrong. What he doesn’t have, however, is the kind of pantomime verve that would make the evening raucous instead of merely chucklesome. Molière’s pure and simple twists still delight, but the production needs even more comic exuberance to really take off.