Social media and a 21st century Misanthrope

HOW is a woman supposed to behave?

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Andy Clark, Helen McKay and Rosalind Sydney in the adaptation of The Misanthrope by Moliere, at  Oran Mor. Picture: Martin Shields
Andy Clark, Helen McKay and Rosalind Sydney in the adaptation of The Misanthrope by Moliere, at Oran Mor. Picture: Martin Shields

If she is too confident and appearing to be flirty, will it be misconstrued?

And how far should you go to please people? How many Facebook friends should you have before it becomes silly?

These themes, and several others, are played out in this week's Oran Mor play, The Misanthrope.

As part of the Classic Cuts season, it sees Moliere's 17th century play taken out of the world of the aristocratic court and set in a modern context.

And we discover that the themes of hypocrisy and true friendship that are so relevant today were being debated by playwright Moliere back in the 17th century.

Moliere's drama was set in the court of Madame Celimene, a flighty, coquettish creature who is friends with everyone.

But she attracts the eye of Alceste, the misanthrope who has no time for phoniness and believes in speaking his mind.

Unfortunately for him, however, he falls for Celimene, a woman who's his polar opposite. And he misinterprets her fanciful letters as a declaration of love.

Helen Mackay plays the modern-day leading lady, Selina.

"This version is actually set in Oran Mor," she reveals.

"Selina is a young theatre producer who's flighty and confident and playing the game of being popular with everyone. And she's friends with everyone on social media.

"The play is about pleasing people and what happens when it all goes wrong."

Former River City star Andy Clark plays the cynic Al, who doesn't believe in saying the right things to the right people all the time.

Yet, despite his convictions and arguments for honesty his feelings for Selina come to outweigh his natural cynicism.

And his feelings are cranked up after he reads her social media messages.

Helen agrees Moliere's work is specially significant today in an era of illusionary relationships, with people trying to get on using whatever means they can.

"It's true," she says, smiling. "And the storyline really does make you think. I have nearly 1000 friends on Facebook but it's true if some were to walk past me in the street I wouldn't know who they were.

"But we seem to need social messaging to measure our own popularity.

"And what I've come to realise is we judge our actions by the number of 'likes' we get. It's so easy to get caught up in all of that."

Helen adds with a wry smile: "I once wrote something about my granddad's 80th birthday and got 165 likes. But the next time I wrote something it got far less. And I found myself disappointed. How daft is that?

"You come to understand that you're creating a persona for yourself on the internet."

What you may also be doing is hinting at interest which doesn't actually exist.

Helen admits we don't always present our true feelings. And actors, in particular, are a little susceptible to overly displaying emotion.

"The acting world is quite gregarious," she says, smiling.

"And you forget sometimes that you can't be as tactile outside of theatre world as you would inside.

"I can also be flirty at times, I guess because of what I do," she says, grinning. "And sometimes you have to keep that in check."

What's been obvious from watching Helen on stage is she can readily present a full range of emotions. It's no surprise she's now considered one of Scotland's top young actors.

The 27 year-old from Thurso, who now lives in Glasgow, is making her fourth appearance at Oran Mor - which gives an indication of her reputation in the business.

After her Moliere stint she'll be appearing at the Edinburgh Festival in 3000 Trees, the story of anti-nuclear campaigner and successful lawyer Willie MacRae whose death prompted speculation he was murdered by the state.

It was claimed he committed suicide after he was found dead in his car. But there are many inconsistencies with the contention.

"It's an amazing story," says Helen. "But here's an incredibly strange coincidence. By chance I discovered I live in the same house in Queen's Park as Willie.

"When I realised that I was quite taken aback."

Helen follows the play up with another drama, Outlying Islands, in which she's set to tour.

David Greig's play however is especially challenging, as Helen has to appear naked.

"To be honest, being naked on stage doesn't really scare me.

"What frightens me in theatre is being asked to sing. That really gives me nightmares."

n The Misanthrope, Oran Mor, until Saturday.

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