The world premiere of Thon Man Moliere, Liz Lochhead’s play about the life and times of the playwright Moliere, opens at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre this week, running 24 May to 11 June 2016.
The production, directed by Tony Cownie, finds actors Siobhan Redmond and Jimmy Chisholm appearing on stage together for the first time ever – although they have “radioed” together, as Chisholm calls it.
Set in Paris in the time of Louis XIV, the play takes place backstage in the King’s Theatre Company where Jean-Baptiste Poquelin de Moliere – played by Chisholm – is creating one of his brilliant comedies. Comedies which Lochhead finds are very much inspired by his own desperate life.
Redmond plays Madeleine Bejart, with whom Moliere fell in love when he was just out of university. He gave up studying law to set up a theatre company with her and they worked together all their professional lives.
Lochhead and Redmond go back a long way. As Lochhead remembers in the Lyceum’s video of rehearsal footage: “She is so close a friend, she is like family. I wrote this play hoping – but not thinking – that she would actually ever play Madeleine in it.”
Famously, Lochhead wrote her hit Perfect Days, about a Glaswegian hairdresser, for Redmond. She left the script for her to find when she came up to stay in Lochhead’s Glasgow flat – tied up with a tartan ribbon and with her name on it in gold ink.
That show, directed by John Tiffany, was a big hit at the Traverse and went on to tour extensively, including to the London West End. Less well known is that Lochhead gave Redmond her first job with True Confessions. The young actress travelling up to Edinburgh from where she was studying, to appear on the stage of the Edinburgh Playhouse.
The play which the King’s Players are rehearsing during the time when Thon Man Moliere is set, is Tartuffe: one of several of his plays which Lochhead has translated into Scots.
It is also a play which became notorious on its first performance for not being quite as much a work of fiction as it pretended to be, with its depiction of the hypocrisy of the upper classes. What Moliere presented as satire was taken as criticism by an outraged ruling class and the play was banned.
Lochhead, however, is adamant that her own play is a work of fiction.
“Thon Man Moliere isn’t a history play,” she says. “It is about these completely made up characters – out of some facts of Moliere’s life.”
Like Lochhead, director Tony Cownie is, by all accounts, something of a Moliere fan. And he has brought together a proper treat for audiences with the company he has assembled for the very last production of Mark Thomson’s tenure at the Lyceum.
Joining Redmond and Chisholm are Steven McNicoll as “Gros-Rene” Du Parc, one of Moliere’s leading performers and Nicola Roy as Therese D Parc, his leading actress and a great beauty. Also in Cownie’s troupe are Molly Innes, Sarah Miele and James Anthony Pearson.
Thon Man Moliere
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Tuesday 24 May – Saturday 11 June 2016
Evenings: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30 pm; Matinees: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.00 pm
Tickets from http://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/thon-man-moliere