With a manipulative main character who schemes to keep his adopted teenage ‘niece’ under lock and key until he forces her to marry him, Tony Cownie’s production of Educating Agnes doesn’t sound as though it’s ideal fare for a comedic farce with elements of pantomime.
However, Liz Lochhead’s translation of Molière’s L’École des femmes is just that, taking the anachronistic morals and borderline offensive material and ridiculing them by painting the characters as grotesque cariacatures, speaking in rhyming couplets peppered with Scots colloquialisms and modern figures of speech.
Thus Arnolphe (Peter Forbes) ‘bottles out‘ of confronting Agnes (Nicola Roy), to uncover the truth of her suspected dalliance with young rakish Horace (Mark Prendergast); and, when he asks his servants to pretend they are chasing off unwanted suitors, Georgette (Kathryn Howden) and Alain (Steven McNicoll) delight in calling the pompous Arnolphe a ‘big tube‘.
Lochhead’s translation tears joyfully through Moliere’s original, taking great delight in witty rhymes and patterns; which the actors do full justice to with perfectly-timed delivery and delightful performances. Forbes is fabulous as the preening and pompous Arnolphe, using expressive and cartoonish facial expressions to convey all the frustrations – mental and sexual – of the middle-aged man seeking to snare his ‘simple’ bride.
Nicola Roy is enjoyable as the not-so-simple Agnes, her womanly needs and desires hidden beneath a childish exterior. Kathryn Howden and Steven McNicoll ‘s double-act as the dim-witted servants with a healthy disrespect for their master is also great fun, allowing Cownie to add elements of slapstick to the already farcical proceedings.
Hayden Griffin’s impressive set design also warrants a mention, recreating the Restoration-era streets in which the action takes place. Cownie makes humourous use of this setting with some well-placed anachronisms, such as the sedan chair ‘taxi’, complete with registration number on the rear.
At its core – and echoing other productions in the Lyceum’s season – Educating Agnes deals with the place of women in a male-dominated society. And whilst the attitudes are firmly placed in the 17th century, Lochhead’s wily translation drags it up to date by the breeches, the original bawdy humour intact but injected with enough self-knowing witticisms to make it appeal to a modern audience.
Though, with its panto-like production, it is very hard to resist the urge to boo and hiss Arnolphe as he plots and schemes; or shout out ‘he’s behind you’ when the blissfully ignorant Horace strides round the corner…