Tartuffe at The Space
The Shakespeare of France, 17th century playwright Molière, is considered one of the masters of literary comedy. The appeal of Tartuffe, counted among his most famous plays, is that slapstick caricature and glorious silliness come together to create astute character studies and social commentary. This new production by Amo Theatre brings out all these qualities while making the play its own.
Orgon, head of a wealthy household, has fallen under the spell of Tartuffe, a vagrant he has taken in and whom he believes is as pure and saintly as Jesus himself. The rest of the house sees Tartuffe for the hypocrite he really is – disgusted by the way he gorges himself on Orgon’s food and wine and lusts after Orgon’s wife, Elmire, all the while pretending piety – so they construct a plan to expose his true nature.
Amo Theatre has chosen to pluck Tartuffe from 17th century Paris and set it in a 1920s speakeasy in southern America. It’s a stylish affair, with strings of pearls and flapper dresses, snifters of gin and jazzy grand piano accompanied crooning. The strong southern drawl spoken by most of the household recalls the showy praise giving of celebrity Evangelical preachers we know from American reality TV. This highlights the ridiculousness of Tartuffe’s faux piety, which is key to Molière’s story.
Canny servant Dorine, played by Philippa Tatham, is set apart by her Irish accent, which has the effect of making her seem much more down to earth than the rest. Fast-talking and larger than life, she brings many laughs. Tom Cornish’s Orgon is emphatically idiosyncratic, ranging from ecstatic obsession to wild tantrums with great comic effect. Orgon’s brother-in-law Cléante, played by Brian Tynan, is the moderator, balancing out the hot-headed rest with his rational behaviour. He brings the antidotal sip of cool to the pandemonic proceedings. John Fagan does a sterling job as Tartuffe, delivering melodramatic exclamations of religious fervour, the only criticism being that he is perhaps a little too likeable.
It’s a power tussle between a band of caricatures. From the red-faced fury of Orgon to the underhandedness of Tartuffe to the wily charm of Elmire (Norma Butikofer), the unfolding tale is engaging from start to end. Aside comments and interactions are made with the audience, which sits either side of the traverse stage. There’s a feeling that we’re all part of this chaotic household. It’s a party you don’t want to leave.
Tartuffe is on at The Space from 7th October until 25th October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.