Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Educating Agnes" - April 2008

Firstly, it's only fair to admit that farce isn't really my cup of tea. For the most part I tend to find it a poor substitute for clever writing and that it panders to over-the-top performances. In fact I can only really think of two examples of farce I enjoy - TV's "Fawlty Towers" and "Frasier". So how did we end up at "Educating Agnes" then, with it's clear markings of farce? Well, we felt cheated having missed out on "Volpone" last year by Theatre Babel and weren't going to miss out again. And yes, Liz Lochhead's version of Moliere's "School For Wives" was indeed largely a traditional farce but it was also... wonderful.

Although Lochhead's switching of dialogue between accents and her use of rhyme takes a few moments to get used to, it very quickly becomes all part of the fun and the cleverness of the language makes up for the simple situations. There is much humour to be found simply through the absurdity of a burst of modern slang in an otherwise genteel speech.

As Agnes, Anneika Rose has perhaps drawn the short straw - being pretty much the only straight role in the piece. As a result she is left out of much of the fun, but Rose successfully avoids making Agnes two dimensional. Lewis Howden and Maureen Carr are brilliantly comical as servants Alain and Georgette; John Kielty makes Horace believably charming and ignorant rather than just stupid, and Sean Scanlan puts in a fine performance as Chrysalde.

But there's no getting away from the fact that the show belongs to Kevin McMonagle as Arnolphe. It's a magical performance that always manages to stay just the right side of excess. Scenes and exchanges that on paper I would have cringed at the thought of are made to work beautifully and my only concern is that perhaps I shouldn't have been left feeling quite so much 'on his side'.

Graham McLaren's direction also played a large part in my enjoying of the show as he keeps the overall tone well short of 'panto' territory, although I would have liked to have seen (or at least heard) representations of a couple of the 'off stage' moments.

This was an immensely enjoyable evening that was rightfully very well received by the audience at the Citz.

"Educating Agnes" runs at the Citizens until 3rd May before visiting Perth and Oxford.
Image by Douglas McBride used with permission.