Molière on Merseyside

Affection I can endure, affectation I abhor. Empty phrases, meaningless gestures of faked good-will. These affable dispensers of embraces make me ill.

After previous versions of Tartuffe and The Hypochondriac, Roger McGough has now translated a third Molière play, The Misanthrope. Produced by Liverpool Playhouse artistic director Gemma Bodinetz, the play runs until the end of this week on Merseyside before travelling elsewhere with the English Touring Theatre. McGough – who studied French and Geography at the University of Hull in the 1950s – has written recently in The Guardian about translating Molière: noting that when he began work on Tartuffe, there were at least three dozen English translations, he was partly inspired in his own work by dialogues with ‘adaptations in verse by the American poet Richard Wilbur, Ranjit Bolt and Christopher Hampton, as well as Liz Lochhead’s wonderful Scottish conversion’. His version of The Misanthrope is inevitably more sombre than the two previous productions, but it retains the same linguistic verve and is a remarkable (and in places remarkably funny) work that is not so much one of translation as of transcreation. In McGough’s own words: ‘I hope to have done justice to the work of Molière, so that, on leaving the theatre, the audience does not think it has spent two hours in the company of actors dressed in period costume – but in a 17th-century Paris salon where elitism, litigation and deceit were as rife as they are in Britain today.’

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