‘Tartuffe’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 25, 2015

‘Tartuffe’ is a classic satire and farce. Written in 1664 by French playwright Moliére, it was his most celebrated theatrical comedy. Tartuffe means ‘hypocrite’ or ‘deceiver’. The play is written in alexandrines – a rhyming couplet of twelve-syllable lines – 1,962 of them. Unlike Shakespeare’s much shorter couplets, more than one person often speaks one couplet.

When the play premiered at the Versailles fête, because of Tartuffe’s attitude to religion, the archbishop of Paris, Hardouin, threatened excommunication for anyone who watched, performed in or read the play. Moliére therefore asked his friend King Louis XIV for support. The play was rewritten and called ‘Panulphe’ – a Sudanese word – but it was again banned. However, the King allowed private performances for the French aristocracy.

This presentation is by the Actors’ Hub, a wonderful training ground where quality, acting students, still at school or early university, are selected, encouraged and refined – a kind of ‘finishing’ school.

The two-hour performances start at 7.30 (not 8.00 as shown in some publications) each evening in the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, 174 William Street in Northbridge. The season runs until Saturday 25th July.

 

The scene is Orgon’s Paris house in the 1660s. The set is a large, metre high dais against the rear backdrop; it has a chequered floor with steps at each side. A wooden dressing screen is at one side and a chaise lounge sofa at the other. Centrally is a bright red wooden chest. There are several, very large Chinese Ming-style urns.

           The rumour is that the stubborn, head of the household, Orgon (Jordan Holloway) would like his flighty daughter, Mariane (Emma Harvey) to break off her engagement to her handsome fiancé, Valère (Quaid Kirchner) and instead marry a guest in the house, Tartuffe (Adam Droppert) an amoral, hypocritical, religious aficionado whom Orgon admires very much.

         When Mariane’s stepbrother, Damis (Danen Engelenberg) hears of the father’s match made in Hell, he gathers Mariane, his uncle Cléante (Justin Gray) and even Dorine (Angela Mahlatjie) the nosey housemaid, to devise a plan to expose Tartuffe. The haughty, single-minded Grandmother, Madame Pernelle (Nicholas Allen), will have none of it and becomes angry.

        Damis tries to explain what a conman Tartuffe is, but Orgon whilst talking to Tartuffe, becomes convinced into thinking this is a deceitful, slanderous plan of Damis. Orgon becomes furious, cuts Damis out of his Will and casts him from the house. Tartuffe is thrilled when Orgon declares that he, Tartuffe, will become his new heir, even receiving the deeds of the house as a prenuptial gift.

        Tartuffe immediately corners Elmire, Orgon’s beautiful wife (Ashana Murphy) and tries to molest and seduce her. When Dorine comes to the rescue, a threesome almost results.

       Will the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Tartuffe, get away with his reverse psychology fraud, or will Orgon see through the dastardly plan?

 

A NIDA acting graduate, the multi-award winning director Vivienne Garrett has worked with the top Australian theatre companies and many stars of the screen. Her calling has spanned decades in theatre, film and television.

Vivienne has shown the cast how subtlety can be achieved even with the brash, larger than life characters. This wonderful cast shone. Faced with a very tricky rhyming script is always a challenge, however, when one actor passes a couplet halfway through, to another to finish, then the pace, intonation and expression must all be the same for the rhyme to work. Even when the fuming and exuberant Orgon passed a line to the calm, manipulative housemaid, Dorine, the whole effect still worked.

The play was sexy, ranging from the girlish, crush-like love of Mariane, to the normally demur Elmire who turns on all her sex glands in an attempt to seduce Tartuffe into her trap. Tartuffe himself was perfectly depicted as a slimy letch, as he tackled every woman in sight. The chemistry and dexterity of the actors was amazing.

This was not as many expected a dry, Shakespearean style drama, but a beautifully adapted and, in parts, an almost pantomime style performance that even the youngest members of the audience could follow.

Actors Hub always produces quality; this was the team at their very best. Many congratulations.