Christopher Hampton and Gérald Garutti tackle Molière’s most famous theatrical comedy, an illustrious work of the Golden Age of Versailles, in the West End’s first ever dual language theatre production. Camille LaPaix comments:

Contextually, Tartuffe is a pivotal piece in French literature and a political call for the separation of church and state, an accusation towards the use of beliefs as a shield against bigotry, wrongdoings and sins of any kind. Since it was written in 1664, religious fanaticism has proved to be globally as alarming as it was in Molière’s time. Extremists, hypocritical pretenders to excellence and the gullible 1% roam everywhere, without distinctions of social circle or borders.

Tartuffe Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sebastian Roché (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

This is what transpires in the Royal Haymarket Theatre’s version of Tartuffe: transposed from 17th century France to Present day Los Angeles, you forget where one starts and the other ends. Mark Twain said that “no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often”, and this is where Christopher Hampton‘s production of Tartuffe triumphs. Hampton takes a story that was written as exquisitely satirical – a mockery of the naïveté of the bourgeoisie, a willingness to blindly follow, and most of all, a gibe sweetly directed at the Sun King Louis XIV – and twists it into modern relevancy. The audience does not bat an eye because Director Gérald Garutti‘s vision seems chillingly credible.

Tartuffe Theatre Royal Haymarket

Paul Anderson & Audrey Fleurot (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks

Originally written in alexandrines of rhyming couplets, Tartuffe here is brilliantly translated into normal blank verse. The form might be lost in translation – literally – but the content is cleverly faithful to the original text; Molière’s linguistic wits and subtleties are a pleasure to rediscover in another language. Delivered in both French and English, the production surrounds the audience with translated subtitles that follow the text and theoretically should allow you to jump from one language to the other along with the characters. Unfortunately, this does not happen – the pace of the play is quick and sharp, far too fast for the audience to comfortably read the subtitles before the line is gone and the conversation over.

When you focus on reading a screen, you cannot pay attention to the stage; the set creates its own downfall, as it makes it difficult to both understand the play and follow the action. Fortunately, this was eased by Andrew D Edwards’ minimalist set, aesthetically pleasing and the perfect atmosphere for a production set in present day L.A. – a neon-lighted glass box, both prison cell and exhibition stage.

Tartuffe Theatre Royal Haymarket

Claude Perron, Olivia Ross & Sebastian Roché (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

Unconditionally smitten with Tartuffe (Paul Anderson), Sebastian Roché as Orgon is a highlight of the play. His performance is a masterclass in acting, delivering English prose and French alexandrines with the same dexterity – a besotted, at times childish and despotic pater familias who shows a praiseworthy vulnerability in the second half of the show. Audrey Fleurot as Elmire, Orgon’s wife, is equally commendable, shining as a true example of early feminism in theatre. Her performance is elegant, subtle and haughty; her delivery turns both Molière and Hampton’s lines, as well as her own body, into weapons, creating a woman who is intellectually and physically equal to the opposing men.

Tartuffe Theatre Royal Haymarket

Paul Anderson & Audrey Fleurot (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

However, as the title character Tartuffe, Anderson is less than impressive. While strangely charming in his guru ways, he lacks the certain je-ne-sais-quoi that makes Tartuffe captivating and enrapturing. Instead, he leaves a taste of unkemptness and sleaziness that does not measure with the man whom a billionaire made his sole heir over his own children.

Tartuffe Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sebastian Roché Paul Anderson (image courtesy of Helen Maybanks)

Tartuffe stayed as one of the highest regarded work of French literature with the aid of its deus ex machina, the irreverent panegyric in praise of Louis XIV. Theatre Royal Haymarket’s production keeps its promise of a modern twist by turning the famous theatrical plot device into a scene peppered with references to an unnamed Donald Trump, a clever spin that has the audience stifling laughter throughout the end of the play. As such, Tartuffe does its job in retaining both the humour and alarming criticism of the original work, while presenting its own set of original irreverence and risks.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Tartuffe runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 28 July 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.