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Moliere's TARTUFFE: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Published by: Elaine Pinkus on 30th May 2018 | View all blogs by Elaine Pinkus

I would have loved to rejoice in this exciting experiment of Moliere’s Tartuffe, billed as the first dual language production to open in the West End, but sadly I was unable to do so. Disappointingly this production failed to meet my expectations on many levels.

Sebastian Roché and Paul Anderson (l-r) in Tartuffe. Photo by Helen Maybanks 192_preview.jpeg

Sebastian Roche as Orgon and Paul Anderson as Tartuffe: photograph Helen Maybanks

Written in 1664, Tartuffe set out to expose the hypocrisy and deception of religious zealots who manipulated those desperate to dedicate themselves to religious extremism and preyed upon their gullibility and naivety.This expose so enraged the church that it banned the play and it was not until five years later that this iconic French satire was performed to the delight of its audiences and has continued to entertain. Fast forward to our current day and its central theme retains its timeless quality. Manipulation of the gullible continues as does the violence of obsession, fanaticism and fundamentalism.

Adapted by Christopher Hampton and directed by Gerald Garutti,  and supported by the Institut Francais, Moliere’s Tartuffe is set in Los Angeles. Donald Trump has replaced the role of King Louis X1V and the versatile cast perform in both French and English. There are surtitles available for the audience on three separate screens. Whilst helping with understanding, these were a distraction and I found much of my time was spent checking the rhyming metre of the French couplets, the English blank verse and whether my French A level had equipped me with the skills of accurate translation.

 

So, to the tale: Film Tycoon,Orgon, is intent on attaining religious heights. So open to manipulation is he that he readily invites into his home the penniless and manipulative Tartuffe, a modern day American evangelist whose vile and deceptive ambition is to gain the worldly goods and chattel of his host for himself at the expense of the gullible and naive householder. Both Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle, will hear only what they want to hear, and see only what they wish to see. Nothing can convince them that Tartuffe is not what he says he is. And they, as the hierarchy of their household, enforce it on their family, rebuking them for their lack of faith. Taking advantage of the blind stupidy of the wealthy householder, Tartuffe sets about seducing both Orgon’s wife, Elmire and daughter Mariane, whilst cheating Orgon of his worldly wealth. It is only thanks to the cunning of Elmire and the strength of Dorine, the strongly feminist housemaid, that Tartuffe is exposed and finally taken away to jail, at the command of Trump’s aide.

At this point I can only wonder why both Garutti and Hampton chose to set the play in LA. As a comedy, this works well as a setting in a parlour or comfortable drawing room. The move to LA, using a set comprising a glass cube raised above sterile flooring with only a narrow table, lost the charismatic atmosphere so necessary to this observation of a family being torn apart. Where family members hid to spy on the attempted seduction of Elmire, they now had to wander/clomp round the glass cube, rather like Winnie the Pooh pacing around his honey tree. It felt awkward, clumsy and lost the farcical comedy of the trickery. When performing within the cube, lit with interesting colours depending upon the topic at that point, voices were muffled and unclear. It just didn’t work!

And that was the problem. The entire production felt uncomfortable. The moving between French and English lost the lyrical quality of the original; the wandering around the glass cube seemed pointless and added nothing to the theatre; the performances themselves were loud and at times simply noisy. Quel domage!

 

The cast of Tartuffe. Photo by Helen Maybanks 181_preview.jpeg

The cast of Tartuffe: photograph Helen Maybanks

 

Nevertheless, Audrey Fleurot (of ‘Spiral’ fame) looked stunning in her costumes, even though they restricted her movement to an extent. Sebastian Roche(London West End theatre debut) bravely performed his role as the naive tycoon (but was the chest baring scene necessary?) and Claude Perron as Dorine was strongly assertive. Paul Anderson (Peaky Blinders fame) was making his West End stage debut in Tartuffe, taking the role of this villain. But he lacked the credibility of this character and appeared ill at ease. (Again, was his chest baring scene necessary!) 

Paul Anderson and Audrey Fleurot in Tartuffe. Photo by Helen Maybanks 248_preview.jpeg Audrey Fleurot as Elmire and Paul Anderson as Tartuffe: photograph Helen Maybanks

 

 

Ending on a note of humour, albeit puerile, at the expense of Trump, twitters and all, the performance concluded. An interesting experiment but joyful, non!

Photography: Helen Maybanks

Theatre Royal Haymarket 

18 Suffolk Street

London

SW1Y 4HT

SEASON DATES

Friday 25 May – Saturday 28 July 2018

 

BOOKING ONLINE

www.trh.co.uk

 

PERFORMANCE TIMES

Mondays - Saturdays: 7.30pm 

Thursdays & Saturdays: 2.30pm

 

TICKETS

Prices from £15

 

TELEPHONE BOOKING

020 7930 8800

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook: TartuffePlay

Twitter: @TartuffePlay

#TartuffePlay

 

 

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