The Misanthrope, Comedy, London
Rope, Almeida, London
The Cat in the Hat, National / Young Vic, London

Damian Lewis is a big disappointment, but Keira Knightley's not bad in a so-so modern take on Molière's classic

Damian Lewis's Alceste is brutally frank. As the infuriated protagonist of Molière's The Misanthrope, he cannot bear hypocritical fawning, and in Martin Crimp's adaptation, which updates the action to modern-day London, he is driven up the wall.

Alceste is a playwright who loathes luvvies and the glitterati. He is besotted, all the same, with Keira Knightley's Jennifer, a stellar actress surrounded by lecherous, treacherous sycophants.

Some of Crimp's self-referential gags about showbiz have the capacity to backfire, especially when Lewis turns to the audience and scorns Theatreland fare: "People will speak highly of a pile of shit, if they've dressed up and spent fifty quid to see it."

To be blunt, Thea Sharrock's production (top-price tickets £49.50) is merely so-so. I would say "comme ci, comme ça", only it's not quite "comme" anything. Too few of the characters ring true. They keep falling between four stools; Molière's era, our own time, and French and British culture.

Knightley's Jennifer entertains her admirers and gives press interviews in a hotel suite that's a mishmash of Baroque cornicing and trendy designer chairs. She lolls on the sofa, twirling her new stilettos, while Alceste harangues her about behaving like a tart.

What jars most – in this celeb-obsessed, shopaholic UK setting – is that the dialogue often sounds more like a Sorbonne seminar, in rhyming couplets: "It's hard to be enraged/if one is philosophically disengaged./ And the human animal looks far less fearsome/through the prism/of postmodernism."

Alceste's disgust at the toadying going on between the entertainment industry and the starstruck media is topical enough. And the celebrity casting of Knightley is almost poignant when she is momentarily stopped in her tracks to be bitterly warned that becoming famous means losing your integrity and personal privacy, being sucked into the publicity machine and spat out as a branded commodity.

What's more, in spite of some bitchy predictions that Knightley's West End debut would expose her as talentless, she's not bad. She invests Jennifer with some independent-minded dignity, and delivers putdowns with a comically timed smirk.

However, only Nicholas Le Prevost, as her suave agent, gets the balance between spot-on realism and satirical caricature. And Tim McMullan is certainly missing a trick not recognisably impersonating any current British theatre critic in his thigh-slapping portrayal of the reviewer and wannabe-dramatist, Covington.

Damian Lewis is, in the end, the biggest disappointment. Though supposedly infatuated, there's little sexual chemistry between him and Knightley's Jennifer. Nor is his hatred of superficial sycophants imbued with anything approaching passion. While his character is clearly supposed to darken – becoming threatening then despairing – he keeps merely skimming the surface.

The dapper murderers in Patrick Hamilton's 1920s thriller, Rope, believe they've risen above psychotic misanthropy and all moral qualms. A pair of arrogant Oxford undergrads, Brandon and Granillo have throttled a chum just for the hell of it, because they've read Nietzsche's nihilistic philosophy. Stuffing the corpse in an antique chest, they then nonchalantly invite four guests – including the victim's pater, Sir Johnstone – round for a light supper. The buffet is laid over the hidden body, after Brandon has danced (if not quite done a cartwheel) on this macabre grave.

Rope is certainly an antidote to the glut of cheery Christmas shows, and the Mayfair setting (unlike Hitchcock's Manhattan-set film version) is deeply imbued with a mood of post-First World War cynicism.

Roger Michell's production is also terrifically tense, at first illuminated only by quivering firelight – the killers' faces in shadow, just a forearm caught in the blood-red glow.

A reconfiguration of The Almeida, so that the audience encircles the tiny stage, creates a sort of dramatic pressure-cooker as Alex Waldman's Granillo starts losing his nerve – ultimately screaming like a wild animal. Phoebe Waller-Bridge offers comic relief as a footling Sloane, and Michael Elwyn's unsuspecting Sir Johnstone is a movingly sweet old gent. Blake Ritson is superb as Brandon, cool as a cucumber but starting to sweat as he is slowly cornered by their inquisitive pal, Rupert – a devilishly wily, effete performance from Bertie Carvel, pictured inset.

Finally, the hardcore avant-gardist Katie Mitchell has – shock, horror! – been reading Dr Seuss. Her latest NT production is an adaptation of the comic cartoon fantasy, The Cat in the Hat, for three- to six-year-olds! Your cutting-edge toddler may, duly, be expecting a multimedia extravaganza with a lot of po-faced, handheld cameras. But no, this half-hour show is a relatively sweet and simple bit of fun, faithfully recreating the original drawings on flats that trundle around on wheels.

Angus Wright is an absolute delight as the naughty, debonair cat-cum-magician who livens up Sally and her brother's dull suburban home, whirling his furry black tail and bouncing imaginary balls with surreal squishy and hooty sound effects. His sidekicks, two mad imps with electrified blue hair, create gleeful chaos. Luckily, the Cat tidies everything up with a Heath-Robinsonian gadget – like a giant octopus with white-gloved butlers' hands – just before Mother returns. Small but perfectly formed, the show transfers to the Young Vic in January.

'The Misanthrope' (0844 871 7612) to 13 Mar; 'Rope' (020-7359 4404) to 6 Feb; 'The Cat in the Hat' (020-7452 3000) to 18 Jan

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine