Molière’s elegant precision attack on religious hypocrisy was banned after only a few performances, despite being well received at the Court of Louis XIV, thanks to overwhelming pressure from the Church. So in the light of current debate about freedom of speech, this revival of the parable of the sanctimonious hypocrite, who worms his way into the affections – and fortune – of a gullible paterfamilias, is as well-timed as it is well-executed.
Jonathan Munby’s extraordinarily atmospheric production creates an aptly claustrophobic sense of time and place from the moment the lights (designed by Oliver Fenwick) go up on Mike Britton’s effectively simple heavily-draped salon. It’s enhanced by the subtle period feel and plangent sound of Dominic Haslam’s original music, played onstage by versatile actor/musicians Tom Jude and Maria Rallings.
Munby’s uniformly excellent cast do Molière proud, sketching vivid characters with a cartoonist’s economy and clearly relishing the wonderfully witty lines of Ranjit Bolt’s translation - think Hillaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and you’ll have the rhythm and often devastatingly subversive wit, then add the occasional well-placed four-letter word that had the Newbury audience gasping with surprised delight.
Such a fast-moving production ensures that the audience is caught up in the inexorable rise of Adrian Schiller’s terrific lizard-like Tartuffe. It’s easy to sympathise with the despairing members of obstinate Orgon’s household watching in helpless disbelief as he’s taken in by Tartuffe’s schemes to cuckold him and disinherit his heirs.
Matched in gullibility only by his mother (Marty Cruickshank), Des Mcaleer’s Orgon is infuriatingly impervious to attempts to make him see the obvious. His best friend Cleante (clear-spoken John McAndrew) and Patricia Gannon’s deliciously in-yer-face and down-to-earth maid Dorine are the voices of common sense. There’s lovely chemistry between bickering lovers (newcomers Sophie Roberts and Matthew Spencer, fresh out of the same drama school). And Joseph Chance’s impetuous, tactless heir Damis almost deserves to lose his inheritance. Only drastic measures taken by Elmire, Orgon’s resourceful wife (drily delightful Catherine Kanter) look to succeed in unmasking Tartuffe in a climactically funny scene. And it almost ends in tears as Chris Porter’s menacing Kings Officer arrives to make an arrest…
Indeed a cautionary tale, told with bracing intelligence by a top-notch cast, backed by a production team whose history of working together pays dividends. Don’t miss it!
- Judi Herman (reviewed at The Watermill, Newbury)