It took a while for this production of Tartuffe (pronounced ‘Tarr-toof’, accept no substitutes) to grow on me. My initial thoughts were along the lines of, “This is unbelievably silly, and I’m as po-faced as I would be if I’d just walked into the office on Monday morning.” But this small cast doggedly persists – without, I hasten to add, coming across as trying too hard. Though I wasn’t the only one in the audience who didn’t give much of a response to the early punchlines, by the end most of us were beaming with delight.
Having come from an unpleasant and stuffy religious background myself, in which ‘blind faith’ was encouraged, despite the Good Book actually promoting wisdom and knowledge, I can very much relate to the frustrations of Elmire (Maia Kirkman-Richards) and her daughter Mariane (also Kirkman-Richards: rapid costume changes differentiate one character from another, with not quite the breathtaking speed of The 39 Steps but flowing easily nonetheless). Orgon (Adam Boyle), the man of the house, is obsessed with a holy man, the said Tartuffe (Alice Osmanski). The latter can do no wrong in Orgon’s eyes, and his wife and daughter are not fully aware of everything that’s going on – only the audience is sufficiently well-informed. They do, however, know enough to recognise that Tartuffe must be outed as the hypocrite that he is.
This is an intriguing adaptation, and an experimental one at that, using rather more French dialogue than I had expected. Any native French speakers will have found the French accents (when speaking French, that is) abysmal. Still, those whose command of French is far superior to mine chortled away at the punchlines. The narrative was not lost on us monoglots: there was always sufficient explanation in the English replies to the French statements to get us all firmly on the same page again very quickly indeed.
Further, the use of masks was done well, helping to distinguish between characters, though the obvious limitation (as anyone who has seen, for instance, The Phantom of the Opera, will know) is that facial expression and emotion is limited by the masks. The masked characters must, therefore, rely all the more on the dialogue to demonstrate feeling.
But, given this is a comedy, some of the characters’ thoughts and reactions are substantially exaggerated when the occasion calls for it. Some scenes are very physical, with a lot of movement and flapping about, often to comical effect. Although this is an adaptation of a seventeenth-century play, the non-specific setting means we are never left wondering if the place and period was the most appropriate for the adaptation unfolding before us.
The production is charged with energy, with some of the longer and windy speeches in the original text almost mercilessly (and, at the same time, mercifully!) slashed – if not omitted altogether. This show succeeds in showing up, in a witty manner, the dangers of idolising any mortal who possesses as many imperfections as anyone else.
Unlike some shows that start off so very well and then begin to run out of steam, this does the opposite. It starts slowly and steadily builds momentum, like a snowball that gets progressively larger as it bounces down the mountain. By the time it ends, well, to misquote a marketing campaign for a soft drink some years ago: you know when you’ve been “Tartuffed”.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Theatrical Niche’s hysterical new adaptation of Molière’s famous work puts Physical Comedy and Linguistic buffoonery centre-stage in this dynamic production.
Can impostor Tartuffe seduce the proud Orgon so completely that he will surrender both family and fortune – or will this dog finally meet his day? A tale of Hypocrisy at its most extreme here sashays back onto the modern stage in a fantastic new guise.
Commedia Dell’Arte and corresponding nonsense language “Grammelot” contrast starkly with the heightened French verse. Wigs, masks and noses grow ever larger in the pursuit of greed and lust.
The critically acclaimed Theatrical Niche team here pull out all the stops to ensure that this rejuvenated tale of extreme hoodwinkery is the unmissable theatre outing of the season.
Suitable for ages 12+
Free Q + A sessions after shows.
Accompanying workshops available.