Tuesday 30 April 2019


National Theatre, Lyttelton
23rd February, 2019, matinee

We are all Tartuffe

In Christopher Hampton’s bilingual bash at the Molière classic last year, Tartuffe had supposedly come to rescue the materialistic tycoons blinded by the fame of the Hollywood Hills. The inanities of the modern world in this production may well be closer to home in Highgate, but the world that John Donnelly has created seems far away from reality. The effect, for me, was to show the lives of two different hypocrites from two very different sides of London crossing tracks.

Robert Jones’ design is of a gauche townhouse living room, stinking of money and tastelessness: midnight blue walls, a contemporary orb light fixture, and a huge naked gold statue holding a pink feather boa dominate the set. Kevin Doyle’s Orgon has a military past and since risen through the ranks to influence government. He plays Orgon as so to hint that he was once a man who valued the rational and enjoyed a simple upbringing but has since thrown it away. Since then, he’s batted an eyelid at too many parties and too much greed in his family, leaving him to fall under the spell of Denis O’Hare’s ersatz Tartuffe. O’Hare’s Tartuffe has several echoes of Johnny Rooster Byron. Not only did O’Hare’s performance – mixing with the audience beforehand, walking around in his pants, enamoured by his own charm – have an air of Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, but Orgon finding him in a portacabin on an industrial estate just outside Archway is the sort of fable you may hear of Rooster Byron. Kitty Archer gives a memorable performance as a stereotypically Millennial Mariane. But Geoffrey Lumb gives the most enjoyable performance as her boyfriend, the pompous champagne socialist street poet Valère. Him screaming the line ‘why does no one respect the revolution?!’ gets the most laughs; it reminded of that Tynan point about an audience loving an irate man shouting ‘I am perfectly calm’. Audiences still love it, in all its variations.

There’s a lot of belief to suspend for the play to make sense in a contemporary Western setting: Orgon insisting who his daughter marries; the oddly close brother-in-law character. Ultimately, Tartuffe is unravelled as a ‘plain old social climber… drinking the wine, eating the food, staining the sheets’, a reminder that there are many types of fake even if they don't resemble the ones Orgon's used to. But it seems to me that Tartuffe would only seem outright outrageous in a setting which is completely realistic, or to have an Orgon et al. that’s so out of touch with the modern world that Tartuffe actually seems rational. But in this version, both worlds are exaggerated and I'm unsure as to what the effect of that is. Nevertheless, Blanche McIntyre’s production is a colourful, lively romp which, in the play’s dying moments, adds a small coup in that the stage begins to tilt towards the audience. As Orgon and his family start to slide off the stage, it’s a reminder that their world is not as secure as they would like, no matter the clothes they wear, the parties they throw or the power they once yielded. Namaste.

Tartuffe played at the National Theatre until 30th April, 2019.

Kevin Doyle and Hari Dhillon in Tartuffe. Credit: Manuel Harlan.

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