Tartuffe at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
This bilingual production of Molière’s crowning glory is stylish, sexy and well-directed. But a desperate need to innovate and inject contemporary relevance means that the play sometimes gets in its own way.
In Christopher Hampton’s adaptation, the Orgon household is now in Los Angeles, the head of the house owns a film studio and the action unfolds upon a marble terrace, surrounded by an electric blue infinity pool.
Hampton and director Gérald Garutti have decided to have the characters switch from French to English throughout the performance, with the assistance of surtitles. This makes for a unique experience but means that you’re constantly keeping one eye on the translation. Yes, it’s nice to hear the classic author’s original alexandrine rhymes, but I’m not sure whether it really enhances our understanding of the text in any great way. This aspect of the production also means that the comedy suffers in translation. Surtitles alone cannot land a joke, neither can a French actor whose fluency in English isn’t exceptional.
The eponymous Tartuffe (Paul Anderson) is an imposter, a faux-religious guru who has enchanted Orgon (Sebastian Roché) and entered his house with the aim of taking his fortune and seducing his wife. Anderson’s Tartuffe is not a very good actor, if you catch my drift. The performer is not able to establish a sufficient contrast between the face of piety he adopts for Orgon and the lecher who pursues Elmire (Audrey Fleurot) with shameless excess.
The “honey trap” – where Elmire exposes Tartuffe via seduction – is the play’s most successful sequence. Fleurot manages this iconic exchange with deft ease. The actress is vixen-like in her seduction but doe-like in her reluctance. Her anger is ferocious but induces laughter. She is perpetrator and victim at the same time. And the leading lady is able to infuse heart-break and humour into the same sentence regardless of the language she speaks.
The piece’s final coup-de-théâtre, where a message from the king (the president in this case) saves the family from ruin, epitomises the limits of this production.
Hampton and Garutti’s desperation to make this staging as pertinent as possible in today’s political climate has driven them to suddenly make it a play about Donald Trump. The references to Twitter and “p***y-grabbing” are humorously irreverent but one inevitably leaves wondering what the final point was supposed to be.
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Tartuffe is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 25th May until 28th July 2018. Book your tickets here.