Thon Man Moliere

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

four stars

THE PLAY may be the thing, but the lives of those who write them can often prove equally compelling. So it is in Liz Lochhead's comic love letter to her greatest inspiration since her Scots version of Tartuffe graced the Lyceum stage thirty years ago. Here we find Moliere himself, played by Jimmy Chisholm as a middle-aged roue dubbed "Pokey" by the rag-tag troupe of actors he and his inspiration, Madeleine Bejart, have pulled together, riling up the establishment as he goes.

Enter a cast list of Steven McNicoll's queeny old ham Gros-Rene du Parc, Nicola Roy's past her sell by date debutante Therese and James Anthony Pearson's thrusting young buck, Michel Baron. There is also Sarah Miele's ingenue Menou, whose presence turns everyone's world upside down in a telling take on the consequences of what happens when you do let your daughter on the stage.

Lochhead's story of an older woman usurped by a young starlet to become the frustrated genius' muse could be straight out of a Hollywood backstage musical. But what might have ended up as one great big theatrical in-joke transcends its roots, in Tony Cownie's sensitively realised production, to become something with infinitely more substance.

Chisholm and co may initially appear ridiculous, but the emotional devastation experienced by Moliere, Menou and especially by Siobhan Redmond's Madeleine becomes increasingly serious stuff. There is a wonderful running gag on Moliere's series of cheeky maids – with Roy no stranger to such parts – while Molly Innes's all-seeing Toinette's deadpan put-downs upstage everyone. A loving homage to how the creative process itself can tear people apart.