Molière 400th anniversary project
Sands Music Room 29 July 2022
Available online until 4 August 2022
“I live on good soup, not on fine words”
Les Femmes Savants
Ensemble Molière describes Good Soup (which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Molière’s birth) as “an exploration of Molière’s world, both through his words and the music of his time … It investigates Molière’s form of bourgeois comedy and asks what these narrative structures still have to offer”. The show brings together “baroque music, absurdist theatre, slapstick and puppetry” and “takes a critical look at our own relationship with catastrophe and the desire to escape into spectacle and happiness”. It was performed in the magical Sands Music Room in Rotherhithe, a tiny theatre original built as a film set for Sands Films. but retained for use as a delightfully quirky and intimate performance space.
The hour-long entertainment is set “In a space and time not dissimilar to our own, where environmental catastrophe, popular upheaval, war and pestilence rage through the country, the king withdraws into a world of mirrors, spectacle and art”. It is based on two servants (the clown/performers Lizzy Shakespeare and James Oldham) who try to “uphold the Molièrian idea of ‘decorum’ while performing multiple roles, singing and dancing around the king’s banquet table”. The fact that ‘decorum’ was not always achieved added to the entertainment from these two talented and versatile actors.
It opened curiously. A metronome was set ticking on the central table. The performers then entered slowly and sat in silence, listening to the tick-tock and then started tossing dice for about five minutes. I didn’t catch the relevance of a metronome or the dice to Molière or his world, but it was at least a moment of repose before the theatrical high-jinks that followed. In a clever staging directed by Klara Kofen (dramaturg/director/designer/puppeteer/ stagehand) and Rachel Wise (movement director/puppeteer/stagehand) with Bryn Fitch (puppeteering consultant), the clown/performers Lizzy Shakespeare and James Oldham dominated the evening with a slick array of theatrical and comedic scenarios, based on the works of Molière. I am not familiar enough with Molière to catch all the references – or, indeed, any of them – but they were all very entertaining and impressively presented with a wonderful sense of comedy.
One memorable scene near the start saw Lizzy Shakespeare combining an extended monologue with eating mouthfuls of lettuce. Other scenes included the arrival of an enormous pile of props as an inventory was read out, one between the Debt Collector and a Property Administrator, which I assume referred to Molière’s own imprisonment for the non-payment of debts, and a puppet show.
Although promoted by Ensemble Molière, their role was basically a backing stage band, providing a variety of music from Molière’s time by the likes of Lully, Marais, Charpentier and Louis Couperin. They did, however, join in with the action, notably when bassoonist Catriona McDermid became a key part of the action by molesting one of the protagonists with her bassoon. Satoko Doi-Luck was key to the musical contribution with frequent harpsichord solos and improvisations. Flavia Hirte, baroque flute, Alice Earll, baroque violin, and Kate Conway, viola da gamba completed the musical line-up, playing with refined delicacy.
The live show was broadcast live and the recording is available to watch here until the evening of 4 August. Contributions are encouraged. It is well worth watching and, of course, supporting financially. Offers of future live dates would also be welcomed – it would be a very welcome addition to any musical or theatrical festival.