Theatre Royal Haymarket, London – until 28 July 2018
Guest reviewer: Dil Marolia
In 1664 Molière’s classic comedy Tartuffe caused quite a stir. It’s a satire on how a religious figure resorts to bad behaviour and corruption. It so enraged the church that it was banned by King Louis XIV and there were even calls for the writer to be burned at the stake. Five years later it was restaged and became a big hit. Today, everyone in France is familiar with Molière’s Tartuffe.
Theatre Royal Haymarket’s new production reimagines the classic Molière comedy in the West End’s first ever dual-language production. The play is adapted by Christopher Hampton and is set in contemporary Los Angeles. Supported by a cast of English and French actors with impressive CVs, this satire is brought to life with funny lines and excellent storytelling.
Directed by Gérald Garutti, Tartuffe tells the tale of a French billionaire film tycoon, Orgon, who lives in Hollywood and is completely duped by a radical American evangelist and will go to any lengths to keep him in his house.
We meet Orgon’s family who is up in arms because Orgon (played by Sebastian Roché) and his mother (Annick Le Goff) have fallen under the spell of Tartuffe (debut by Paul Anderson) a bogus white-robed holy man who pretends to be pious. But Tartuffe’s antics don’t fool the rest of the family. When Orgon promises his daughter, Mariane’s (played by Olivia Ross) hand in marriage to Tartuffe, even though she’s in love with Valère (played by Jaz Deol), the family devise a plan to expose Tartuffe as the fraud he is.
They scheme to trap him into confessing to Elmire (Orgon’s wife played by Audrey Fleurot) his desire for her but they are interrupted by Orgon’s son, Damis (George Blagden) who’s been eavesdropping on their conversation and jumps out of his hiding place to take a picture on his mobile phone as evidence to show Orgon. Shocked, at this daring act the conniving holy man turns the situation around by confessing to Orgon and accusing himself of being the worst sinner. The reverse psychology works and Damis is banished from his home. Orgon’s so taken in by Tartuffe that he even suggests that he should spend more time with his wife, signing over all his worldly possessions to him.
Elmire now takes matters into her own hands and challenges Orgon to witness an encounter between herself and Tartuffe. Orgon takes the challenge hoping to prove his wife wrong and hides under the table in the same room. Only when Tartuffe’s incriminating behaviour is dangerously close to violating Elmire that Orgon reveals himself and orders Tartuffe out of the house. But the vile guest has no intentions of leaving threatening to expose the contents of the box he’s acquired from Orgon containing incriminating letters written by a friend and orders Orgon to leave his own home. But the biggest laugh is when Orgon’s problems are resolved by a presidential emissary as ‘the president loves a billionaire’!
The production is subtitled for the opposite language of whichever is being spoken at the time (when an actor is speaks in English, French subtitles appear and vice versa). Although several screens are placed throughout the theatre sometimes it felt like I was missing the action due to reading the subtitles.
The set, designed by Andrew D. Edwards, is contemporary with a perspex box in the middle of the stage which, although in keeping with Hollywood, doesn’t actually do justice to the production.
Excellent performances by Claude Perron as Dorine (Asmelie, Chrysalis) and Audrey Fleurot as Elmire (Spiral, Intouchables).
Paul Anderson’s (Tartuffe) almost laid back approach makes him seem even more sinister when he reveals his darker side.
Vincent Winterhalter as Orgon’s brother Cleanté was brilliant at delivery.
The productions runs until Sunday, 28 July 2018.
Images: Helen Maybanks