At first glance, Molière’s The Miser, or L’Avare in the original French as first performed in 1668, contains the seeds of drama. Harpagon, an avaricious father, unceasingly heartless towards his grown son and daughter, and paranoid they will steal his beloved fortune, sounds like the stuff of tragedy; the scenario hints at an old man’s cognitive decline or undiagnosed mental health pathology. Yet the ironic words on the page and the sitcom-like setting of the same room throughout centre the play firmly in the realm of farce.
In this adaptation by the Sydney-born playwright Justin Fleming, Bell Shakespeare’s go-to guy for Strine-ish Molière, there are four evenly spaced doors arrayed across a tall wall, through which Harpagon’s foppish children, opinionated servants, assorted go-betweens, and a sycophantic marriage broker make their swift entrances and exits in purposely garish wigs and costumes. They orbit John Bell, who is at once heroically repellent as the skinflint in question, a tyrannical patriarch picking his nose and sniffing fingers that have scratched his nether regions, and forever whinging about economic injustice while finding ways to short-change everyone he knows, monetarily and emotionally.