Moliere’s “The Miser,” written more than 300 years ago and with a
plot that has more twists than a corkscrew, is not the easiest play
to revive. But Craig Belknap’s production for A Noise Within
unquestionably belongs in the premier league.
This production, which never mistakes commotion for comedy nor
mania for mirth, is expertly adapted from Moliere’s original French
prose into semi-modern English by David Chambers, and reset, tongue
in cheek, in Paris immediately before the 1929 stock market crash. It
is a celebration of craft, and there is an abundance of craft on
Mary Boucher is memorable as the conniving matchmaker Frosine, the
perfect foil to Mark Bramhall, who is simply amazing as the Miser,
Harpagon, the ironic, self-deceiving hypocrite, who loves money
almost more than life itself. He is the bourgeois miser who steals
the oats from his horses; who is distracted by the suspicion that his
children intend to rob him; who, on finding it necessary to entertain
10 persons at dinner, provides for eight only.
Indeed, every scene in which he appears serves to throw fresh
light upon his character. And repulsive as is the vice he represents,
his presence throws no gloom over the play, partly as he is held up
to derision as well as hatred, and partly because all his
surroundings are treated in the spirit of the liveliest comedy.
The key point is that Harpagon is determined not only to take a
bride for himself but also turn a tidy profit from marrying off both
his ne’er-do-well gambler son, Cleante, cleverly played by Adam
Graham Smith, and his somewhat willful daughter, Elise, perfectly
captured by Danya Solomon. All is put on hold when Harpagon’s
treasure, buried in his garden, is stolen and the chase for the
criminal is on.
Everything in this exquisite production has been re-thought and
re-felt. But along with the gutsy performances from a first-rate
ensemble, much of the credit for the evening’s success belongs to
Chambers’ adaptation, which clicks perfectly into place, matching
Moliere’s situation with a deft, verbal comedy.