Artist Date, Bell Shakespeare, Inspiration, Melbourne, Moliere, School for Wives, Theatre, Writing
Now I bet you’re all thinking that I’m going to start talking about my recent writing escapades, but you’d be wrong. In fact I’ve taken this phrase (or at least something very like this phrase) from the play ‘School for Wives’ by Moliere.
Last Tuesday I saw the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production of School for Wives and in short it really was brilliant. Originally written in French and first performed in 1662, the Bell production was an English translation, by Justin Fleming, that had been modernised to 1920s Paris.
It took me about ten minutes to settle into the swing of the play with its incredibly dense dialogue, filled with complex ideas, witticisms and poetry. I was rather sad that during that first ten minutes I probably missed a lot – I suppose it just means that I’ll have to see it (or read it) again.
As my first exposure to Moliere I found myself in awe of how very clever he was, how the biting political and social satire that he wrote so long ago still rang true in 20th century Paris and indeed in 21st century Melbourne. Clearly Justin Fleming’s translation helped in this regard, adding one or two elements to make it accessible to the modern age as well as one or two topical jokes, but one must give credit for the timelessness of the ideas upon which the story is built.
The dialogue reminded me strongly of the glorious density of Oscar Wilde’s work; taking us on a rampant, musical journey with his words. It seems such a shame that no one talks like that in the real world.
In terms of the performers they were all truly a credit to the company, but I have to give particular kudos to John Adam, who has to be the undisputed show-stealer. While Adam is known in Australia largely for work in television crime dramas, and I knew his face, I was honestly astounded at the depth of his performance, as well as the sheer magnitude of the dialogue he had to deliver. He was fully committed to the gradual and absurdist unravelling of his character while still maintaining the humanism of him; the character was beautifully, tragically real all the while keeping up the split second comic timing required of him. He is also super hot which, let’s be honest, helps a lot!
The rest of the audience also seemed to enjoy the performance. There was a large contingency of high-school aged people, which leads me to think that the play is on the VCE text list, who seemed to enjoy the use of vulgarity and slapstick more than the delicate wordplay. It brings to mind the idea of catering to a wide range of audiences by writing in elements that will keep different levels of patron engaged; much as Shakespeare did with characters like Falstaff running in parallel with his biting social satire.
For myself the highlight was a monologue by Adam’s character Arnold in which he explains the problems in society that stem from men with clever wives, in particular of writers. I felt rather pleased to include myself in that particular category of intellectual social perils.
Overall I was both inspired and intimidated by the experience. I want to work on my writing to move it towards the beauty, density and apparent ease of the greats but at the same time am filled with a sense that I have a long way to go! I am also inspired to spend more time reading and going to the theatre because I feel that stage acting requires quite a different set of skills to film and that it is a skill I would not want to be lost from the world.