Theatre Review: The Miser, Garrick Theatre

I read an early review of this production of The Miser where it was described as a “mugfest”. I asked my partner to come with me. She loves a mugfest after a hard day's work. And true enough this very loose adaptation of the Moliere classic starring Griff Rhys Jones and Lee Mack is very much a mugfest. Not much more, but definitely a mugfest.

Rhys Jones plays Harpagon, the titular skinflint hellbent on keeping his money and getting his kids suitably married off while finding a rich wife for himself at the same time. Mugfest king Lee Mack plays various servants when not dropping out of character to address the audience, Eric Morecambe-style.

The plot, however, very much plays second fiddle to the quest for easy laughs. It’s part farce, part-panto as Griff Rhys Jones pulls down his pantaloons and also indulges in audience banter, as one point asking everyone in the posh seats who has stolen his money. Ornaments – albeit pretty spongy ones – fall on heads every time a door is slammed and feet are put through chairs and benches with alarming regularity. But I guess furniture was pretty ropey 350 years ago.

Despite being set in what one can only describe as the olden days, the adaptation by Sean Foley and Phil Porter finds plenty of scope for modern references, from austerity budgets to dodgy bankers to Sports Direct. Heartless Harpagon is so cruel to his staff they keep getting the sack, hence Mack’s Jacques – who is instinctively very funny – having to multitask. At one point he dons numerous hats in quick succession, a nod to Tommy Cooper and also the ancient art of chapeaugraphy (Sean Foley directed the West End run of Italy's Arturo Brachetti, who has revived this art. See? I do know my stuff).

The rest of the cast is good value too, particularly Katy Wix and Ellie White as a pair of poshos. White, channeling Frances De La Tour, does that funny accent that she does in everything else, so “shipwreck” becomes “Shopwruck”. Andi Osho is also effective, flouncing about as Frosine. Ryan Gage looks like a psychedelic Russell Brand as hapless Cleante. And Mathew Horne displays excellent cork-catching skills - on the night I was in anyway – as Valere. 

if there’s a chance of a joke it is grabbed, from paper money on eleastic twanging across the stage to sword-fights with baguettes. Maybe it is apt it's called The Miser because it is packed full of cheap laughs. It certainly mucks around with the original text. There’s a song that takes the piss out of Les Mis and Mack has a gag about The Guardian’s review which i’m sure wasn’t written by Moliere. I lost count of how many times Mack’s hands were banged by the lid of his spinet. Mugfest is definitely the right word. Shameless smugest would be better. Or shameless, unapologetic laugh-a-minute mugfest if there is room to fit that on the poster.

Until June 3. Tickets here.

Picture by Helen Maybanks.

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