A London Take on The Misanthrope

THIS country’s arts needs more people like Gavin McAlinden. Individuals who want to encourage actors to fulfil their talent. Incubators.

Four years ago, he set up the Acting Gymnasium (Kings Cross, London) to give aspiring actors the chance to make a name for themselves – maybe after taking a career break to have a family, or because they have failed to get an agent or just not had a good career break.

It is an inclusive set up, embracing all nationalities, and it has had notable successes – helping the likes of Adam Henderson-Scott and Becca Van Cleave on the path to West End or TV success.

The Gymnasium’s regular workshops embrace voice work, improvisation, characterisation exercises and of course performance. McAlinden says he embraces the ideas of Stanislavsky, Vakhatangov and Nimerovic-Dancenko.

All this diligent work is currently manifesting itself in three productions showing at Theatro Technis (a stone’s throw from Mornington Crescent tube station in North London) between now and May 5. Productions that involve 45 actors and more than 20 nationalities. Inclusiveness on all levels. Moliere’s The Misanthrope, Chekhov’s The Seagull and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All with a McAlinden twist.

It is all ambitious but it works judged by the evidence of The Misanthrope.

Instead of setting it in Paris, McAlinden throws it forward to today’s London and in particular its thriving fashion industry. Scenes are set in London’s up and coming Shoreditch and Soho. The misanthrope Alceste (played by Sunil Patel) is a successful photographer who is thoroughly disenchanted with the fashion industry he makes a living from. The industry, he says, is awash with vainglorious individuals.

Alceste speaks his mind, much to the displeasure of Oronte (a very good Robert McLanachan) and his performing troupe of dancers. Rather than pander to Oronte’s ego, he tells him what he thinks of his art. Not a lot.

Confiding in Philinte (an exceptional Hanna Luna) that he has had his fill of the people he deals with, he withdraws into his mental cocoon. This is an isolation at odds with the love of his life Celimene (Tawny Fontana). She is a party animal who loves to entertain in her apartment at Fitzroy Square. She has men fawning all over her – and falling head over heels in love with her. Most notably a handsome peacock Acaste (Ray Malekout) and Oronte.

Into the mix is thrown haughty Arsinoe (a wonderful Lisa Kinshuck) whose aim is to stir things up between Alceste and Celimene and have her evil way with the misanthrope. Court summons flow, culminating in Celimene being disowned by her friends for disparaging comments she has written about them.

No one comes out of this mess very well apart from Philinte who goes off into the London sunset with Eliante (Lina Cherrat), Celimene’s cousin.

It is all rather enjoyable fare, set to some super music (Lily Allen, Coldplay and more besides). Mentions of the BBC, flashing camera and club bouncers give it all a modern feel. Stand out performances are delivered by Patel, McLanachan and Kinshuck. A special mention for Preslav Shipkaliev whose cameo as Dubois takes the breath away (I felt like standing up and applauding). Also, Suzanna Zajac who plays one of Oronte’s cronies with convincing gusto. As for Michael Brosnan, happy to bare his chest at every opportunity, he takes campness to a new level as Clitandre (Acaste’s companion).

McAlinden’s adaptation will not be to everyone’s taste – and the performance is not without a few glitches. Awkwardly, it flits between the language of London today and that of Paris more than 350 years ago. It is also pretty darned difficult to decipher who the proverbial hell everyone is. Madam this. Madam that.

But that is not the point. McAlinden is giving actors a chance to prove themselves and showcase their talents. More please.

For ticket info

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