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Molière's riotous seventeenth-century comedy about an older husband so afraid of marital infidelity that his young wife is kept under lock and key by a pair of bumbling servants. Time Out speaks with director Lee Lewis about love, verse and the superhuman

"Everyone knows that you can't control love," says a wistful Lee Lewis, speaking from Alice Springs, en route from Geraldton to Darwin. "You can't have it the way you want it – ever – and that's something you've got to accept as a human. Love will always be torture."

When Time Out speaks to Lewis, her production of School for Wives is currently in the middle of an epic overland expedition through the country's most far-flung theatres, town halls and entertainment centres. Since the show opened in Warrnambool, in June, Lewis has met a lot of very different people in a lot of very different foyers, but, she says there's one thing that unites them all.
"We've all loved someone who hasn't loved us back."
This is the everyday tragedy that grounds Molière's famous comedy.
"I've fallen in love with people who haven't loved me," admits Lewis, "and when I was younger I remember I tried to fall in love with the 'right' person. They ticked all the boxes. But you can't force it one way or another, and that's what Arnolphe tries to do."
Arnolphe is a sort of '40-year-old virgin', an amiable if somewhat blimpish middle-aged man with a disastrous anxiety about women. The only woman he feels comfortable with is his beloved 17-year-old ward, Agnes, whom he has jealously kept hidden from the world in a nunnery. His solution, then, is to marry her. Unfortunately for him, she has somehow found someone else.
"It's very domestic," says Lewis. "It's about a guy in love with a girl who is in love with someone else."
Though sometimes misleadingly described as the 'French Shakespeare', the seventeenth-century French playwright is very much an original. He was one of the first to really exploit human manners through situational comedy, where the plot is very simple, but the moment-to-moment interactions are complex.
"It's a combination of a Reese Witherspoon rom-com and a Ricky Gervais satire," explains Lewis. "Moliere was kind of inventing the cringe, that really painful comedy."
Yet this production is more ambitious than your average Witherspoon vehicle. Bell Shakespeare have commissioned a new translation from Australian playwright Justin Fleming, which he has written in rhyming alexandrines, just like Molière.
"There are prose translations," says Lewis, "but they're not as fun."
There's also something a little bit spectacular in seeing someone like John Adam, as Arnolphe, speaking in rhyming verse for two-and-a-half hours.
"It's like going to the circus. You don't think for a minute that you could get up on the trapeze. You wonder at them and think, wow, that's kind of superhuman. I want to hang a sign out the front that says, 'These stunts are done under controlled conditions. Don't try them at home.'"


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By Andrew Fuhrmann   |  

The School for Wives video

The School for Wives details

Drama Theatre
Bennelong Point, Sydney 2000

Telephone 02 9250 7111

Price $45.00 to $72.00

Date 26 Oct 2012-24 Nov 2012

Open Tue 6.30pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm

Director: Lee Lewis

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