Two young women come to Paris to find jeux d’esprit and witty beaux in a new staging of the satirical comedy of manners Les Précieuses ridicules, produced by Projet Molière, an organisation which gives students of French an opportunity to practice the spoken language in a friendly environment.
Magdelon and Cathos are the précieuses, ladies who are desperate to integrate themselves into high society, through their exaggerated refinement, but scorn their eligible suitors, considering them too vulgar. In revenge the suitors play a trick on them, whereby their valets, Mascarille and Jodelet, call on the ladies, pretending to be nobility and behaving in the most outrageous fashion, only to be fawned over by the two social climbers. What follows is a ludicrous display of suavity pushed to the extreme. With a modernized set and performed in the original French (but with English surtitles for those of us who are somewhat less than fluent), this production is both light-hearted and enthusiastic. Undoubtedly I would have enjoyed it more had I been able to understand the French – in my ignorance I found my eyes constantly gravitating towards the surtitles and this caused me to miss some of the action not taking place centre stage, and I felt that Molière’s biting satire on the ‘preciousness’ of the circle which the title characters represent was rather forgotten under the silliness of it all. Nevertheless, the dialogue was fluid and the voices and movements were so full of character that I still would have been laughing along had I not understood a word of the text.
Particularly good was Aurélien Pulice as the flamboyant Mascarille, whilst Emma Maitland and Béatrice Mercier were entertaining as the précieuses; however the whole cast deserves praise, particularly those actors for whom French is not their native language. To memorise a script is one thing, but to do so in a foreign language is quite another, and the commitment displayed here was commendable. Combining French comedy, feather boas and Lady Gaga, Les Précieuses ridicules provides the audience with a whimsical hour of amusement without prompting them to think too hard.