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Justin Fleming

REVIEW - Moliere\'s The School for WIves - Justin Fleming - Bell Shakespeare Company

REVIEW - Moliere\
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Published by The Australian
12 July 2012
Cast makes confident channelling of Moliere's rapier wit a pleasure to watch MOLIERE, the French playwright writing in the 17th century, was hardly likely to have come across Australian vernacular phrases such as "playing possum", "poor bugger" or "pissing against a tsunami". Yet there they all are in The School for Wives, Bell Shakespeare's English version of his comedic love story. Moliere would surely have approved of Justin Fleming's daring new version, a taut, biting and extremely funny masterpiece of translation. In some ways, Fleming\'s words are the stars of this show, which zings along in rhyming couplets, true to Moliere\'s original, but also detours effortlessly into the realm of alternate rhyme to provide contrast for a modern audience\'s ears.The cast clearly loves Fleming's confident channelling of Moliere's rapier wit, and the eight actors deliver this wordy play with relish and well-honed timing.Two aspects make this production so pleasurable to watch; one is director Lee Lewis\'s decision to set the play in bohemian Paris in the 1920s, when social norms were crumbling in a way the pretension-pricking Moliere would have welcomed. The period gives this play's creative team - stage designer Marg Horwell, lighting designer Niklas Pajanti and composer Kelly Ryall - licence to innovate with elegant screens and film lights, flickering silent movie images and accompanying strains of Scott Joplin-style jazz on an upright piano (played by actor-musician Mark Jones). Essential for this play's long national tour, the minimalist set also permits lively and sometimes amusing rearrangement of its parts (with excellent choreography by Penny Baron).The production\'s other notable feature is the pivotal character of Arnolde (John Adam), a pompous misanthrope who plans to marry his naive young ward Agnes (Harriet Dyer) to ensure control over a submissive, "perfect" wife.In other productions, he is portrayed as a brainless fop whose leering intentions towards a child in his guardianship are, in today's terms, unsettling. But Adam portrays Arnolde as a suave and likable fool who, with coyote-style cunning, plots to bring down a younger rival for Agnes\'s affections. Meyne Wyatt, as the lover Horace, is an impressive newcomer to Bell's productions; his mildly hip-hop delivery adds a fresh feel to Moliere\'s updated prose. Which brings us back to Fleming's inspired translation, and the surge of vitality his touches of Australian vernacular bring to this classic. If Bell Shakespeare similarly unleashed Fleming on one of the Bard\'s plays, would it lead to cries of horror or audacious new insights? Either way, the risk might be worth it.
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