21 July 2018

REVIEW: Molière's Tartuffe at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Audrey Fleurot as Elmire & Paul Anderson as Tartuffe. Photo: Tristram Kenton

I do not own any of these images.
Molière's Tartuffe adapted by award-winning playwright Christopher Hampton & directed by Gerald Garutti
Starring Paul Anderson, Sebastian Roché, Audrey Fleurot, George Blagden
Playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 27th of July 2018

"L.A. Present day. French media tycoon Orgon has re-located to Tinseltown with his family, his heart set on becoming Hollywood royalty. With a new studio to his name, and a palatial Beverly Hills mansion, his empire seems infallible. But all is not as it seems as Orgon falls under the seductive spell of Tartuffe, a radical American evangelist.  So comprehensively has Tartuffe hoodwinked Orgon that he looks set to steal his fortune, drive away his son, seduce his wife and marry his daughter." Via From The Box Office

This production is a modernized, stylish adaption of Molière's comedic masterpiece Tartuffe. It reimagines the events in today's American social political landscape, intertwining Molière's alexandrine verse with modern English.

This adaption of Tartuffe is performed in both French & English. Surtitles can be read off large screens which are placed above, below, and to the sides of the stage, enabling those who can't understand one of the languages to follow the dialogue through-out the play. There are about 400,000 French citizens living in London so it's no wonder the play found its home here.

The French remains in its original alexandrine verse whilst the English has been translated and modernized into blank verse. Those who are bilingual and glance at the surtitles every now and then may be confused by this contrast between archaic French and modern English. It forces us to concentrate harder as we are constantly switching between registers, but this is something you soon get used to. This mix of different accents, registers and languages made the play all the more interesting. When the French characters spoke English they spoke with a typical English accent, but  Tartuffe, re-imagined as an American evangelist, had a strong southern American accent which I believe worked very well for this modernized version.
As bilingual performing arts graduates we found it incredible to see actors effortlessly switch between both languages: I hadn't realised just how much I missed seeing French plays, I feel so lucky to have experienced a bilingual adaption here in London.

It was perfect for us because we are bilingual, and there was no need to read the surtitles. However ,for other people I understand that it could be an issue. You need to focus on what's happening on stage and on the surtitles, if you don't have time to read a sentence you might be left feeling a little bit lost or frustrated. It's a pretty dialogue-heavy play too, so you need to keep up.

I was really impressed by the stage production, everything from the set design, to sound work and costumes was well executed.

The main prop on the stage was a large glass box which mainly served as a space to separate the characters (who were unseen by others, hiding, eavesdropping and more). It was a visually pleasing yet simplistic canvas which reminded the audience we were in modern day. The glass box wasn't only used for structural purposes, it also enabled the play to depict symbolic moments and changes, such as the reflection of a character's mental state or a symbolic change in a character's life. In the final act it was forcibly pushing the characters forward, like an oncoming storm which they had no power over.
When I first saw it I did believe it represented something more immaterial: at first glance I thought the box represented the mind, or the human eye with the white light boxes on the outer layer and a darker colour in the centre. The lights boxes changed colour throughout the play, effectively bringing about a certain emotion to accompany the dialogue and simple droning sound effects: all designed to pull the audience deeper in to the story.

The play was very stylish. The French characters were dressed in beautiful costumes which reflected their wealth and social position in their new home of Los Angeles: Orgon (Sebastian Roché) and his family are impeccably well-dressed with fitted suits and Elmire's (Fleurot) elegant gowns.
Tartuffe on the other hand was dressed in white and remained barefoot, a beaded cross his only accessory, a statement piece which he used to shield his hypocritical personality from the outside world. The clothes are important because they illustrate a character's personality and class and they have symbolic meaning. As the play goes on, an item of Tartuffe's clothing comes off: we are slowly stripping away his false identity to reveal his hypocritical nature. His scarf comes off first, followed by his white shirt and eventually the beaded cross.

Photo: Tristam Kenton

I always judge a film or a play by whether or not I forget I'm sitting in a room full of people. That happened with Tartuffe. During one intense scene between Sebastian Roché, Paul Anderson and George Blagden (the 3 cast members we were most excited to see perform due to past/ongoing projects), my mind cleared and was solely focused on what was happening right in front of me. I felt completely invested. Immersed. As if I was the spectator in another dimension, convinced for one short moment that what was happening was real. After that, all I could think was 'bloody hell, that was great'. When that happens, you know it's good. And that wasn't even the only scene which left me buzzing. I can only mention so much without spoiling the play, so I'll just say: Audrey Fleurot was perfect in her role as Elmire, George Blagden is a complete scene-stealer, and Claude Perron is fierce as Dorine.

Paul Anderson impresses as the hypocrite Tartuffe: he delivers an impeccable southern american accent and had a compelling stage presence. Even when he wasn't speaking you were watching him. 
Anderson embodied Tartuffe's cunning, mischief and pretend innocence with such allure. His scenes with Sebastian Roché were particularly enjoyable, they both had great chemistry and had the theatre buzzing with energy.
Roché demonstrated his comedic talent by delivering the funniest lines of the show. I think he actually had the most lines in the play, and his character went through all the emotions. Infatuation, love, aggression, disbelief, anger, sadness - Roché delivered it all. Watching him switch between both languages so beautifully was also incredibly satisfying. 

Photo: Helen Maybanks


Summer and I have slightly different opinions on the end of the play so we each wrote our own summary!

S: This adaption of Tartuffe is a risky, ambitious and bold attempt of modernising a classic. Some may struggle with the constant change of languages, registers and accents - but ultimately, this is a play to be enjoyed by bilinguals. Watching bilingual actors switch between languages is a truly wonderful experience. The ending was the only negative for me: although there are a few allusions to the play being set in LA, there was no clear indication that it was set in Trump's presidency. His name isn't spoken until the final 5 minutes, where suddenly we are bombarded with quotes and references made by the President. Because of this, the ending almost felt out of place and irrelevant.
There is room for improvement, but it is on the whole an enjoyable play. For any fellow bilinguals I'd definitely recommend seeing this adaption if you can, seeing the actors switch between french and english so fluidly was a wonderful experience and Sebastian Roché sold it for me! Only one week of performances left so check it out if you can.

H: They made some very risky choices which, in my opinion, paid off: obviously the switching between two languages, the modern LA setting, and the connection with Trump's presidency revealed at the very end of the final act. The attack wasn't sugar-coated, or indirect: it was brutal. To be honest it brought me a lot of hope.
I was initially thrown aback by the final 5-10 minutes of the play. Oh my god are they really doing this?! It was like two giant arms shook me by the shoulders and threw me right back into my world. It was brutal and for a moment I was laughing because I was so shocked, and I forgot how it related to the play and the story. He hadn't been mentioned until that very moment, so it did take me by surprise and I did wonder whether it had been put in just for the sake of it. But thinking back on it, it made sense within the story. It worked. People like Trump have unfortunately always existed. It was a reminder of that and a reminder that he has the power to interfere. I think ultimately we should praise them for being so bold. After all, where was the lie?
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the play. Good story. Good production. The cast was incredible and to be honest I was hooked the moment it began. The perfect play for a bilingual theatre-lover such as myself.

Holly & Summer 


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