“Most of the theatre I’ve done has been contemporary and The Misanthrope will be very contemporary,” says actor Danielle Cormack.
“It will really spin a classic on its head. By shifting the gender of the title character, it might have some confronting moments for the more conservative in the audience. I love that. Creating theatre or television or film, is about challenging people.”
In Lee Lewis’ production for Bell Shakespeare, Cormack plays Alceste, a woman in a position of power in the fast-moving music industry.
We meet her on set at a music video shoot. She’s brutally frank by nature and fed up with the shallow society she moves in. She wants out. But she’s also obsessively in love with Cymbeline, an androgynous pop star (played by Ben Gerrard) who doesn’t share her passion. At all.
Moliere’s script has been adapted into Australian vernacular by Justin Fleming (The Literati, Tartuffe).
Audiences can expect contemporary pop music composed by Max Lambert and Roger Lock, songs sung by Gerrard and Hamish Michael, choreography by Kelley Abbey… and possibly, wind machines.
What excites you most about this play?
I’m working with such an exceptional cast and director and we also had Justin Fleming in the room for a week, and that’s such a privilege and so rare, especially when you’re dealing with the classics. Justin is so generous. And placing it into Australian vernacular has been fun.
The really exciting thing at this point is seeing how the story relates to current themes in gender politics, the glass ceiling for women and the duplicity in the world – in politics, in personal lives. Alceste’s quest for truth is a pure quest and it is really hard.
For me, it’s been really interesting in my own life, just listening to the ways people converse every day and the masks we hide behind.
I am really enjoying Alceste’s frankness. It’s so beautiful to play someone being so utterly honest. She’s not being cruel or trying to offend anyone. She’s just saying it as she sees it.
It doesn’t happen a lot in this world. We are usually protecting other people.
So the truth in the play really excites me.
So do the matters of the heart. In this version of the play, Alceste is the protagaonist and the object of her affection is Cymbeline, who is a young man. She is deeply in love with him, unreasonably so. There’s all this clarity about how she sees the world but none around her love life. It is totally confusing for her.
Have you used any real life misanthropes as a model?
I’ve been looking at Germaine Greer. And my partner is a bit of a misanthrope, so I don’t have to go too far.
Alceste declares at the outset that she wants to remove herself from society, that she is absolutely appalled and disgusted, that there is no justice. She is also in the middle of a lawsuit and hopes that reason will prevail. When it doesn’t, it just confirms all her fears about the world. So she wants to go away.
I think about when Germaine Greer sold her manuscripts [to the University of Melbourne] and then rebuilt a rainforest. There is a beautiful purity to that.
Are you literally looking at Germaine – her mannerisms and how she speaks?
That’s an interesting question. Actually, for the first time in a while, I’ve really been thinking more about the text and the intention behind it, rather than characteristics of Alceste.
Looking at the way a character moves or talks usually comes quite early for me, but this time I’ve been more interested in the language and the intention. I don’t see Alceste being too different from me. I don’t mind sitting in my own body for a character every now and then, because a lot of the time I don’t get to do that.
I see Alceste as a very grounded person. She sits back and is observational. She has one focal point and that is Cymbeline. She is just trying to speak to him, she’s not interested in anyone else. There is a kind of economy to her.
All the movement is inside her brain. She’s a fantastic character.