The Miser by Moliere. The Street Theatre in association with Centrepiece Theatre at The Street Theatre Studio, Canberra
Centrepiece Theatre is new. Its first production is The Miser by Moliere. The second will be Men by Brendan Cowell. From a French commedia masterpiece of 1658 to the first play by a 2001 Patrick White Award winner.
Moliere is a good choice theatrically and symbolically. In his early twenties Jean-Baptiste Poquelin took the plunge, renamed himself Moliere and, with actress Madeleine Bejart and no money, started l'Illustre Theatre (The Illustrious Theatre) against all odds.
Centrepiece is a properly constituted company established by Jim Adamik, Jordan Best and the illustrious Matthew Thomas, ACT Young Australian of the Year (Arts). I'm sure they are more socially acceptable than actors in Moliere's day, who were generally excommunicated by the Church, but we may hope their enterprise in our capital city does not lead them into debtor's prison, as it did for Moliere who had to abandon his troupe of ten actors and escape to the provinces.
For The Miser, Centrepiece also needs ten actors. Ian Croker, in the lead role of Harpagon, has a solid reputation to back this role including recently performing Feste the Clown in Papermoon's Twelfth Night and King George in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III at Canberra Rep.
Jordan Best is directing and says she has found the whole cast - Jim Adamik, Jeremy Just, Richard Anderson, Margie Sainsbury, Carly Jacobs, Matt Borneman, Liz Cotton, Tain Stangret and Matthew Balmford, as well as Croker - a delight to work with. Her approach has been to make all the costumes early, so that each actor starts finding their character from the costume. This suits commedia-style characters, saves actors from nasty surprises which they might have if later costumes were to conflict with their idea of character, has led to exciting and playful rehearsals where actors feel at home, and sets up the production visually as Best wants to see it.
Best herself comes to this, her first stint at directing, not only from a successful performing arts family which includes AFI award winner Peter Best and well-known Sydney actress Blazey Best, but with a background studying cello at the Canberra School of Music and acting at the Victorian College of the Arts. She has become well-known locally for her performances with Elbow Theatre, the National Summer Shakespeare and Free Rain Theatre, where she excelled last year in The Crucible and Amadeus. Further afield her original songs featured in the recent Chris Kennedy film A Mans Gotta Do, coinciding with the release of a full-length album.
The Miser was chosen also because it was the play which turned Best on to theatre when a new drama teacher, at a "posh" girls' school, directed her in the role of Harpagon and "pushed me like a real actor." When she thinks Moliere, she thinks "fun", but it's obvious she is disciplined and dedicated. Talking about the rehearsal process, Best explained that she is aware, from her acting experience, of what she has come to dislike about some directors, particularly those who say "This is how I want you to do it" and then demonstrate what they require. Her basic philosophy is about respecting the actor, working with the actor from what the actor offers, adjusting as they go along. In this way she seeks to arrive at an ensemble performance as an end product of the process, rather than expecting an imposed formula to work.
Best is very pleased to have be given the rights to Men for the next Centrepiece production this year. Sydneysider Brendan Cowell, like Moliere all those centuries ago, is a young and prolific playwright. Among half a dozen plays, Men began life at the Old Fitzroy in 2000, going on to a season at Belvoir St, Bed won the Patrick White Award in 2001, ATM was commissioned for the 2002 Sydney Festival and Rabbit won the 2003 Griffin Award for production at Griffin Theatre at The Stables.
Though Centrepiece expects the earnings to be distributed equally to all involved will not be large, the 2005 program, which will also include something light and celebratory late in the year, looks an interesting beginning for a theatre company which hopes to grow in stature and prove its worth before seeking grant money. Enjoyment for the audience is their first concern, in productions of a mix of classic and modern quality plays.
The young Jordan Best, like the young Moliere, still receives support from her non-miserly parents, but I would hope that Canberra's non-miserly theatregoers will keep her here in the nation's capital, rather than force her to escape to the provinces of Sydney or Melbourne.
The Miser by Moliere
The Street Theatre in association with Centrepiece Theatre
At The Street Theatre Studio
Thursdays to Saturdays March 3-19, 2005, 7.30pm
Twilight March 13, 5pm
Matinee March 19, 2.30pm
Bookings: 6247 1223
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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