Pros: Compelling performances, excellent comedic timing, and a clever use of modern language
Cons: Not the best space for this piece with some poor directing and staging choices
I knew a bit about Molière before attending Leicester Square Theatre on Saturday evening, thanks to my studies of the French Neoclassical era of theatre history, but had yet see one of his works performed. After seeing Ranjit Bolt’s adapted The Sisterhood, I know that I will be back for more humorous depictions of the French bourgeoisie.
Based upon Molière’s comedic satire of pretentious academia, Les Femmes Savantes (which translates in English to ‘The Learned Ladies’), The Sisterhood is set in a Paris salon of the 1980s. The story begins with Henriette discussing her love for Clitandre with her sister Armande. Armande, who had already spurned Clitandre’s love in favour of pursing scholarship and study, thinks her sister foolish to fall in love, and their strong-minded, independent woman of a mother agrees. She has other plans for who she feels Henriette should marry. Hilarity ensues as we see the lovers’ seek Henriette’s mother’s permission to marry, convince her father to stand up for his beliefs, and work their way through the less-than-helpful plots of her aunts.
Ranjit Bolt’s adaptation breathes new life into Molière’s seventeenth-century work. Having the original text written in verse, Bolt keeps to this tradition by writing his modern translation in iambic pentameter, which works well with the comedic timings and offers a unique way of storytelling.
The strong cast keep the energy and pace up throughout. Among the stellar ensemble, there are a few who really stand out. Jamie Scott-Smith showed immense versatility, switching between the meek father of the family, Chrysale, and the rival poet and harsh critic, Vadius. Danielle Williams had me cackling as the tough, East-End gal and maid of the household, Martine.
The performance that enthralled me most, however, was Lia Hatzakis’ portrayal of the erotic and flirtatious Belise, aunt to Henriette and Armande. When Clitandre approaches her to ask for her support in marrying Henriette, she mistakes this for his romantic interest in her, and continues to play at this ‘cat and mouse’ like affair throughout the piece. Hatzakis’ fierce characterisation and attitude brings her Belise to life, and is a joy to witness.
Leicester Square Theatre holds several playing spaces, some more suited to small comedy shows and cabarets than others. The Lounge, in which The Sisterhood is staged, offers an intimate setting with the audience sitting on all sides of the stage. At times, however, it feels cramped, making entrances, exits, and moving through the audience difficult. Attempts were made to make good use of the space, but in my opinion not enough was done to alleviate this.
I felt as though Kate Napier’s direction could have used more creative staging, yet it felt stagnant and repetitive. The actors were directed well in their characterisations but the attempt to modernise the piece, setting it in 1980s, was a bit lost on me. I appreciated it being in modern times, but I didn’t see the reasoning for the 1980s setting, other than as a comment on the rise of powerful women and an excuse to use throwback costumes.
All in all though, the witty, rhyming translation and strong performances madeThe Sisterhood an enjoyable 65 minutes of comic delight. I’ll definitely be back for more Moliére!
Adaptor: Ranjit Bolt
Director: Kate Napier
Producers: Richard Swann & Jamie Scott-Smith
Box Office: 020 7734 2222
Booking Link: http://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/
Booking Until: 6 July 2016