Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Guest reviewer: Rosalind Freeborn
Those immortal words from Monty Python’s Life of Brian popped into my head while watching this curious bi-lingual version of Molière’s Tartuffe – “he’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy.”
Updated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Gérald Garutti, this version of the French classic is delivered in both French and English by a talented and linguistically dexterous cast. To help the audience, whose French or English might not be up to the challenge, there are surtitles which pop up all over the theatre, somewhat distractingly, to ensure that you don’t miss what’s being said, but sometimes miss what should be seen on stage.
Tartuffe, the titular ‘hero’ of this play is a charlatan and by bringing this production into the present day it’s easy to believe how such a man could inveigle himself into a rich man’s family, delivering cod psychology and beliefs which seem to satisfy. Orgon, the ‘victim’ of the piece, is a wealthy film producer, living the American dream in Los Angeles, who has become obsessed by Tartuffe, played by Paul Anderson complete with a Deep South drawl reminiscent of President Clinton.
Orgon has installed Tartuffe in his home, offered him all his worldly wealth and even the hand of his daughter who already has a boyfriend, Valère, played quizzically by Jaz Deol. Now, a certain amount of this might have been lost in translation and, across the centuries too – fathers these days don’t have control over who their daughters marry (not in free-living LA) so there is a certain oddity about this.
Naturally, there are dissenters within the family who can see all too clearly the seductive nonsense which Tartuffe is dispensing, not least Damis, step-son of Orgon – energetically played by George Blagden – who gets into fisty cuffs with the imposter and is banished. Then there’s the rather preposterous but very entertaining moment when Tartuffe attempts to seduce Orgon’s wife, Elmire, a very sinuous Audrey Fleurot and is encouraged by the woman to repeat the performance to demonstrate to Orgon that his protégé is actually full of bad intentions. This is very amusingly done inside a curious misted box which shiftsd on and off stage to provide an ambiguous space for the occasional confession.
Towards the end of the play, just when you thought that Organ had been convincingly fleeced by the n’er do well – he’d got his wife, his house, his money and access to some incriminating documents badly hidden in a briefcase – there’s a very surreal moment when the ‘President’ steps in. All of a sudden, we meet a Trump-like character (who was the King in Molière’s day) who claims to have tweeted the full story to the world and Tartuffe’s number is up. The play ends with Tartuffe, wearing Guantanamo orange, imprisoned in the misty box. The audience cheers.
Well, as I said at the start, I think some of this might have been lost in translation. It was certainly lost on me but for anyone who is fluent in French and English it could be just the thing for a good night out.