John Bell on the joy of playing 'a crusty old bastard' in The Miser
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John Bell on the joy of playing 'a crusty old bastard' in The Miser

The Miser by Molière, adapted by Justin Fleming. Produced by Bell Shakespeare. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. April 11-20. $42-77. Tickets via Canberra Theatre Centre.

John Bell in <i>The Miser</i>.

John Bell in The Miser.

After a three-year hiatus from Bell Shakespeare, company founder John Bell returns with their production of The Miser.

He plays the titular role of the eternal stinge, Harpagon, a fellow who makes that one friend who repeatedly "forgets their wallet" look like a generous angel.

"The character of The Miser is a crusty old bastard, it's a great role to play. I enjoy the scope provides. Plus it's nice to work with Bell Shakespeare again after a three-year break," Bell said.

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The play was written by French playwright Molière and first performed in 1668. The themes of lust, greed, family relationships and manipulation endure, but the text has been revamped for a modern Australian audience.

With writer Justin Fleming at the helm, it's set to be a bit of a riot.

"Justin Fleming's translation is modern, cheeky and Australian, it uses a lot of Australian slang. It's got that recognisable language," Bell said.

"I've really enjoyed Justin's previous Molière adaptations. I've found them very clever, witting, and entertaining."

After School for Wives, The Literati, Tartuffe and The Misanthrope, The Miser is the fifth Molière play staged by Bell Shakespeare that Fleming has worked on.

"The setting is similar to being inside the Trump Tower in New York. It's gold and it's glitzy, people are wearing fancy clothes. It has that feeling of richness and contemporary wealth."

It's this ornate landscape, which plays up the innate greed of the Miser, who refuses to share any of his wealth.

Other cast members include Michelle Doake, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Elizabeth Nabben, Sean O’Shea, Jamie Oxenbould, Russell Smith, Damien Strouthos and Jessica Tovey.

John Bell has previously worked with O'Shea, a Bell Shakespeare veteran - The Miser will be their "15th or 16th show together". He's also previously directed Doake and Strouthos.

The Miser had its first show at the Opera House in early March, and it'll be in Canberra for 10 days from April 11.

"I've always enjoyed performing comedy. Shakespeare's comedies have similar qualities to Molière's; they're very physical, very lively, very sexy - I know the territory pretty well. It's just a different language, of course being modern Australian."

The production will then go on to be staged in Melbourne for a few weeks, but what's next for Bell?

"I've played most of the main Shakespeare roles now, several times, I'm not sure there are that many left that I can do. I'm trying to slow down a bit. I don't want to be at full-time, all the time."

Serena Coady is a lifestyle reporter at The Canberra Times

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