Theatre Royal Haymarket, London – until 28 July 2018
Reviewed by Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
There has clearly been a switch of genre with Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe as it is a struggle to find anything comedic about it. Considering this play is regarded as a shining example of classic French comedy, one that was controversial in its day, this satirical play was lost somewhere in Hampton’s adaptation and Gerald Garutti’s direction.
Set in current day Los Angeles, Oregon (Sebastian Roche), a French billionaire, invites religious evangelist Tartuffe (Paul Anderson) into his household and allows him to infect his home with his manipulation and duplicity. The deceitful betrayal is lost, as Anderson’s Tartuffe is far too louche and laid back in a hippy way to be taken as a real threat. Despite warnings from his family Oregon refuses to believe in the destructive nature of Tartuffe, whom Oregon has offered his daughter’s hand in marriage, and only his wife Elmire (Audrey Fleurot) manages to manipulate him and show him up for the ‘devil’ he is. Fleuret is statuesque in her stage presence and is a shining light amongst the cast.
The set which appears interesting and surreal on first viewing – a lit Perspex box ‘floating’ inside another box – but turns out to be of little value to the production. It creaks its way up and down stage like an old barn door and is probably of more comedic value than the production itself.
The switching between French and English does not add to the production, in fact it is distracting as there is no logic as to what actor speaks in what language and when. Anderson adopts a distinct Southern American drawl which appears to reflect his Bible Belt American Evangelist stance and perhaps isolates him somewhat amongst the French speakers; if that is the case it also appears to isolate the audience.
However, there is also a clear feeling that the audience seem somewhat bemused and disengaged. Laughter is thin on the ground, other than a few random raucous roars dotted from around the auditorium and the odd embarrassed titter here and there. All the opportunities to laugh at Moliere’s writing have been beaten out of this production. There should be an opportunity for some dark comedy, alas, this is not optimised. Also, how long can these Donald Trump analogies continue to have any effect?
What a shame that this production comes across as self-indulgent as it makes the whole evening drag. Not one to recommend.