Please note: I was given tickets to Tartuffe in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
Last Friday, I went to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to watch Tartuffe, a modern bilingual adaptation of Molière’s famous 17th Century satirical play. Directed by Gérald Garutti and adapted by Christopher Hampton, this version of Tartuffe is set in modern day California. A wealthy Frenchman, Orgon, moves to L.A. with his family and there falls under thrall of Tartuffe, a trickster who uses his dominant personality and professed Christian faith to exercise an alarming power over the bewitched Orgon. Although Orgon and his mother fall entirely under the spell of Tartuffe, the rest of Orgon’s family are dismayed and disgusted by the outsider, and they seek to unmask his true nature to Orgon.
Tartuffe boasts an impressive cast, and there were standout performances from Audrey Fleurot (Elmire) and Paul Anderson (Tartuffe). Audrey Fleurot plays Orgon’s beautiful, intelligent wife Elmire. It is only Elmire that proves a match for Tartuffe, as she uses her physical attractions to trick him into compromising himself and betraying his true character. Audrey Fleurot plays Elmire with a cool aloofness mixed with sly humour; the perfect temptress as she poses artfully in figure-hugging dresses. Anderson brings an edge of menace and narcissism to Tartuffe that belies his cheerful drawl and subdued clothing. He broods over the stage from a slightly raised cube, giving him an omniscient-like presence that is felt even before he first appears.
I thought the bilingual production was the most interesting aspect of this adaptation, although I sometimes found the subtitles distracting, as it was difficult to keep my eyes on both the subtitle screen and the actors. The characters (excepting Tartuffe, who speaks only English), constantly switch between French and English. Orgon’s daughter and son, part of the more Americanised younger generation, prefer speaking English, whereas their mother and father instinctively break into French. It is a further sign of Tartuffe’s hold over Orgon that he always addresses him in English.
The use of French pays homage to the play’s influence in French culture and allows bilingual viewers to appreciate Molière’s rhyming couplets. Language, fittingly, is at the heart of this play: it is Tartuffe’s smooth talking, his ability to disarm his enemies by putting forward persuasive arguments, that makes him so dangerous. This is a play in which language is rarely candid: people constantly say one thing yet mean another. No one better than Tartuffe understands the disingenuousness of people’s words; he cannot trust Elmire’s speeches, but insists she must physically prove to him her love. Ultimately, it is not a slip of the tongue that betrays Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, but his own bodily desires.
The famous final speech by the Officer, originally a suspiciously hyperbolic monologue in praise of King Louis XIV, has been changed to reflect Trumpian America. The speech is a fantastic example of subversive double entendre, drawing wry laughter from the audience.
An evening out seeing Tartuffe at the theatre would make a fantastic start to any weekend, especially if you’re a Francophile like me!
Tartuffe is showing until 28th July at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. You can buy tickets here.