Laurence Green can’t escape the feeling that Moliere’s wit and wisdom has been squandered in an attempt to give Tartuffe a 21st century relevance.
I had high hopes for Gerald Garutti’s reimagining of Moliere’s 17th century satire Tartuffe (Theatre Royal Haymarket) but in the event it turns out to be a major disappointment.
The action has been updated to present day Los Angeles. French media tycoon Orgon has relocated 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.
The play was written in 1664, but originally banned by King Louis XIV. Christopher Hampton has translated about half the play into English, peppering a handful of modern references throughout it and the rest is in French with English subtitles. Indeed this is the first dual language play to be staged in the West End. The English text is in blank verse and its informality can sometimes seem at odds next to the more classic French Alexandre metre. But this is not the only problem with the production.
The production opens with one of those familiar party scenes in which people swig champagne and crawl around on all fours in order to signal moral decay, but afterwards it slows to a more stately pace and ends up feeling wordy and pretentious, didactic rather than dramatic. Things improve in the livelier second half which builds up a certain momentum and contains some topical jokes at the expense of Donald Trump. But you can’t escape the feeling that Moliere’s wit and wisdom has been squandered in an attempt to give it a 21st century relevance.
Andrew D Edwards’s striking set consists if an oblong box fronted with privacy glass, lit in neon shades and surrounded by surrounded by what appears to be an infinity pool.
Paul Andersen (best known as hard man Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders) makes the title character usually portrayed as a parasitic fraudster, seem more like a creepy guru sustaining an air of evangelic weirdness. Audrey Fleurot (from hit French TV show Spiral) as Orgon’s exasperated wife, Elmire convincingly sets out to trap Tartuffe into revealing his baser tendencies by using herself as bait, her anger visibly building at Tartuffe’s presence in her home. But it is Sebastian Roche as the pathetically enthusiastic Orgon who makes the strongest impression.
Runs until Saturday 28 July 2018 at Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Box office: 020 7930 8800
Photo: Helen Maybanks