In a witty, fresh translation – yes in rhyming couplets – by Justin Fleming, Bell Shakespeare brings us a wickedly delightful new version of Moliere’s TARTUFFE. It has been updated to Sydney now, with Australian slang and accents and works wonderfully. Fleming’s translation remains faithful to Moliere’s text while rearranging the 12-syllable lines of rhyming couplets to suit the English language. The younger audience especially loved it and were in stitches.
The play is still extremely relevant to today. Above all it examines the fake hype and religious fervour, the search for religious meaning in late middle age, that the pious swindler Tartuffe shams, Rasputin like, – a veritable Napoleon of a TV evangelist con man.
The world of Orgon’s family is in total disarray, all is topsy-turvy– as is shown by the posh red velvet curtains, half painted brickwork, and the almost Surrealist jumble of huge sofa and knocked over grandfather clock.
Particularly impressive are the multiple designs for what is inside the huge wardrobe,– everything from Marianne’s clothes one moment to an ornate chapel with chandelier for Tartuffe.
In another design feature, as Tartuffe’s grip on the family tightens especially in the second half, a giant brightly coloured advertising sign lopsidedly descends, like a Facebook invite, imploring us to “accept” or “ignore” an invitation from Jesus.
Paul Jackson’s lighting is brilliant and subtly changes to illustrate the different moods within the monologues of the various characters.
The costumes are eighteenth century with a twist, and worked brilliantly. A highlight was the costume worn by Geraldine Hakewill playing the part of Mariane. She looked dazzling in an organza ballet net frock trimmed with luminous crepe flowers and saucy laced bodice.
Some of the women’s wigs were surreal, like fairy-floss gone awry on a very bad hair day!
It is chilling to observe that Tartuffe towards the end wears Orgon’s luxurious coat that we see Orgon wear earlier in the play.
Kelly Ryall’s groovy hip-classical score is inspired somewhat by ‘Switched-On Bach ‘.
Leon Ford as sleazy Tartuffe impressively leads the great cast. Terribly handsome and charismatic you can see why Orgon is drawn to him.
Poor duped Orgon, blind to Tartuffe’s glaring faults, scheming and hypocrisy, is charmingly played by Sean O’Shea.
Kate Mulvany steals every scene she’s in as Orgon’s yappy servant Dorine who never shuts up. You eventually get to believe she really can “talk under wet cement”. She has a hilarious, teetering gait because of her clunky high heels in her sexy black and white outfit and tries to stand up to her master Orgon.Along with Cleante (Robert Jago) she is possibly one of the few who think and plan ahead rather than just going with the tumultuous flow of events. We the audience become the ‘mirror ‘or ‘fourth wall’ for her sarcastic asides /monologues. Underneath her tough exterior lies a soft, loyal heart.
Helen Dallimore is stunning as the beautiful, sexually beleaguered Elmire, Orgon’s dutiful but put –upon wife, who really can’t stand Tartuffe and has to act secretly besotted (another case of pretence).
Robert Jago is tremendous as the clear headed Cleante (Orgon’s brother in law) and Charlie Garber is marvelous as impulsive , fashion-victim Damis, Orgon’s thin, curly haired , hot headed son.
Jennifer Hagan’s Madame Pernelle, in a stunning gold outfit, is a delightful study of assumed respectability. Tall, dark haired Geraldine Hakewill and suavely handsome Tom Hobbs are delightfully enchanting as Orgon’s rather immature daughter Mariane and her beloved Valere, with his Latin machismo. Their quarreling and kiss-and-make up scenes are another highlight.
Scott Witt’s clumsy, mostly silent slapstick servant characters, bump into almost everything on stage and are a lot of fun. .Russell Smith as Monsieur Loyal is maliciously, deliciously slimy.
Moliere’s deus ex machina coup de theatre finale is a near-impossible event to bring off ‘straight’ in this day and age. This production leaves it to another very famous author, the Bard, in the ghostly guise of ‘The Spirit of Poetic, to adjust Orgon’s world to rights in quite an effective, charming solution.
Moliere’s TARTUFFE, well directed by Bell Shakespeare co-Artistic Director Peter Evans, opened at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House on Wednesday 30th July and is playing until Saturday 23rd August, 2014.