On Centre Stage
The Original Hypocrite: Tartuffe Review by Douglas Kennedy.
Tartuffe by Moliere (new version by Justin Fleming). Stars Darren Gilshenan, Steve Turner, Alison van Reeken and an ensemble cast. Directed by Kate Cherry. Queensland Theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company at the Playhouse QPAC until December 4.
Moliere’s great comic creation, Tartuffe, who first strutted the stage in 1664, returns in a new sparkling Queensland Theatre production.
The show, which is actually a co-production with Western Australia’s Black Swan Theatre Company, is a rollicking contemporary revamp of the original with an updated witty script by playwright Justin Fleming.
And Justin has done justice to Moliere’s original stream of rhyming couplets, while set and costume designer Richard Roberts has given it a sharp indoor/outdoor look with an on-stage revolving modern affluent Australian house.
The overall result – thanks to some superb casting – is one of QT’s best shows for the year and a fitting farewell to the 2016 main house program.
Despite Tartuffe’s 352 year-old vintage, he is as refreshingly up-to- date as the modern turbulent times in which we live.
The religious zealot with a hidden agenda, who lies and schemes his way into the hearts and minds of a well-to-do family, is every inch the modern fake.
The idea is that seemingly pious astute businessman Orgon (Steve Turner) has welcomed Tartuffe (wonderfully scheming Darren Gilshenan) into his family with open arms.
The mystical guru type with the ‘I’m not worthy’ line in humble pie patter is going to redeem the hedonistic family, if not make them great again.
However, Orgon’s various family members, including his daughter, Mariane (Tessa Lind), and son Damis (Alex Williams), see through the glass man and recognize him for what he is – a charlatan.
Director Kate Cherry has done a particularly good job with the opening scene as we see the extended family, also including Mariane’s suitor Valere (James Sweeney), Orgon’s young trophy wife Elmire (the seductive Alison van Reeken) and Elmire’s brother Cleante (Hugh Parker) partying while Orgon is away.
However, despite the family’s protests against Tartuffe’s growing malevolent influence, the strongest rebel voice is that of the outlandish maid Dorine (played to comic perfection by Emily Weir).
As the plot rolls out we see Tartuffe’s power grow – although once when he’s caught out trying to seduce Emire he plays the groveling sinner card – and Orgon being sucked into an ultimately disastrous domestic quicksand.
The deception moves from comic to tragic as Orgon first offers Tartuffe his daughter, Marianne’s hand, then his estate and even damning papers, which turn out to be evidence of possible treason.
However, despite the looming iceberg, Moliere’s original satirical concept and Fleming brilliant script never lose their comic edge.
When Tartuffe was written as a satire against the church, the then Archbishop of Paris moved to have it banned.
King Louis XIV, who was a supporter of Moliere, had no choice but to comply, but he saved the playwright from possible excommunication.
Today’s interruption, set in a world beset by questionable leaders, dodgy ideologues and now a mechanism for manipulating facts known as Post-Truth, gives Tartuffe even more resonance.
Overall Tartuffe is both a great night at the theatre and genuine nourishing food for thought in these uncertain times.
Catch it (if you can).