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The Tartuffe and The Trial

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Be ready to drop your guard and open your mind for The Tartuffe. If you are a fan of the original Moliere play, get ready to forget everything you think you know.

From the cast interacting with the audience as they sit in the bar, to the group hug at the end, you can forget the notion of being a passive audience member as you become an integral part of the play. Throughout the show off-stage characters are constantly whispering an opinion, giving some advice or handing out stage-hand duties to members of the audience, ensuring that everyone feels part of the action.

A masterful mayhem of farce, satire, mime and clowning helps Orgon Poquelin (Dominic J Allen) tell the story of his fall from grace at the hands of the conman Tartuffe (Marcus Emerton). Assisted by his troupe of Parisian actors, members of the audience and the stage manager Renard le Clown (Jethro Compton), the show hurtles through at breakneck speed, often interrupted by the sheer insanity of the situation.

Allen takes the reigns of the show and runs with them, dragging the audience along with him. His comedic timing is nothing short of perfection; he shifts effortlessly from past to present, from scripted to improvised, constantly keeping the audience on their toes.

James Wilkes’s direction is flawless and a special mention must go to Compton, who lights up the stage as Renard, not only subtly hilarious, but providing the necessary light relief when the story becomes confusing.

At times the show gets a little caught up in itself, the constant breaks from the narrative providing excellent comedy but doing little to assist understanding of the plot. With a running time of two hours without an interval, one is immediately envious of those sitting on the sofas.

The Trial, based on Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, follows Joseph K (Allen) as he is arrested for a crime neither he, nor the audience, have any knowledge of. Throughout the play he tries to understand what it is that he has done and how he is to be acquitted of it, fighting the bizarre bureaucracy that now surrounds him.

The first 10 minutes of the play were possibly some of the most memorable of my theatre-going life. Without giving too much away, the setup succeeds perfectly in its aims, leaving the audience dazed and confused as to what is about to happen. Suitably bewildered, we embark on this beautifully-staged piece, helped greatly by the setting of the vaults underneath London Bridge.

The direction throughout is superb, the actors intermingling with the audience enough to keep them on their toes and to keep suspense suitably high. With scenes set throughout the vault, the space itself is curiously overwhelming, with walls and set pieces appearing out of nowhere, ominously lit through lamps, candles and the actors’ handheld torches.

This play simply overruns its welcome. The fact of having to stand for an hour means that the novelty wears off, and a plot too complicated to properly grasp leaves the audience restless. Nevertheless, the piece is beautifully crafted and well construed, the opening and the setting alone making the trip worthwhile.

- Rowena Betts


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