It’s a bit of a stretch to compare a wealthy idiot desperate to join the 17th century French aristocracy and Australia’s so-called aspirational class today.
Louis XIV and his crowd loved this hit from Moli?. It so cruelly lampoons the aspirations of the middle class to become one of them.
The Bourgeois Gentleman is sharpest and most hilarious at the beginning when poor Monsieur Jourdain takes his tutorials in the aristocratic skills of fencing, philosophy, dancing, bowing and dressing. No wonder Moli?, also an actor, wrote the part for himself.
Jean Paul Mignon’s production of this famous comedy-ballet is so sumptuous, and so perfectly blends all these actions, fine costumes and wit, that even the court of Versailles would applaud it.
Indeed, Mignon better delivers Moli? circa 1670 than he does find ways to freshly sharpen the cruelty of Moli?’s great farce. A broad Aussie accent (and the odd please explain) for Monsieur Jourdain, and an awkward translation from Katharine Sturak, hints at an Aussie modernity but it’s only a rough cosmetic.
There are, however, some marvellous performances and also much stage artistry to admire, in the beautifully garbed dancers and musicians and in Dan Potra’s silvery staircase set, which climbs and shimmers with promise but somehow looks as fake as the pretensions of Monsieur Jourdain.
As The Bourgeois Gentleman, Peter Carroll nicely captures his wide eyed na?t?nd doggedness. He spares no expense in his rush to accumulate all things associated with people of quality.
So he’s an easy target for the flattery of Count Dorante (Eden Falk), extracting from him ever more loans, and the sugary lies of the Marquise (Marta Dusseldorp). Jourdain lusts after both her title and her beauty, and forgets he already has a wife, who is played by the indefatigable Pamela Rabe.
Jean Paul Mignon knows his classic French stagecraft and produces a lavish romp sweet with fun and excess. Moli?’s wit can still be heard but his pen is blunted in this production and draws little blood. Poor Monsieur Jourdain is mocked but not skewered.
Louis’s dreadful aristocrats in 1670 would have delighted in seeing that, just as we today need the farce reframed to achieve the same deadly impact.
The Bourgeois Gentleman is at the Sydney Theatre until 9 December.