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A CurtainUp London Review

"In the tower of Babel, babble's what you get." — Elmire
Paul Anderson as Tartuffe and Audrey Fleurot as Elmire (Photo: Helen Maybanks)
London is apparently the sixth largest city of French nationals and so to bring Moliere's seventeenth century play Tartuffe, in a bi-lingual production, with a cast of both French and English actors, could make commercial sense. Tartuffe is the play about a family man duped out of his property and wealth by an overtly religious man who is later exposed as a lecher and a hyprocrite.

The cast have been assembled from both sides of the channel with Peaky Blinders star Paul Anderson playing Tartuffe and Spiral's Audrey Fleurot as Elmire the wife of Tartuffe's most ardent supporter Orgon (Sebastian Roché). BBC's Versailles's Louis XIV (George Blagden) is Orgon's disinherited son Damis and Moliere's voice of reason, Elmire's brother, the sanguine Cleante is played by seasoned French actor Vincent Winterhalter.

There are two issues with the production. The cast chop and change the language spoken with three surtitle screens conveying the translation, one high above the stage and two at the side of the stage. It becomes impossible to read the text and to watch the acting onstage. Further the switching between languages is distracting and breaks up the action with the same character sometimes speaking both languages. I have fairly good French but it is not good enough to follow all of Moliere's seventeenth century language without the aid of surtitles and the switching found me still reading the surtitles, now in French, when I could have concentrated on the acting.

The other main distraction, again visual, is Andrew D Edwards' s set. The set which can change colour psychedelically has an extra room, a cube centre stage not unlike the one featuring in Antony Gormley's 2007 show "Blind Light" which had a misty box where visitors to the show could, from inside, touch the glass to show disembodied hands. Unfortunately using this box means that actors inside, while they can be seen, cannot be heard clearly.

Christopher Hampton who translated Yasmina Reza's Art provides the English text for the play while Moliere's original Alexandrine rhyming couplets supply the French lines. The producers have moved the action to the twenty first century to Orgon living with his family in Hollywood. Tartuffe is a Southern evangelical preacher with a hideous accent to match his unscrupulous and sanctimonious verbiage.

Claude Perron as the opinionated and clever maid Dorine does her best to protect Orgon's daughter Marianne (Olivia Ross) from her father's plans to marry her to the hyprocrite instead of to her choice Valere (Jaz Deol). The huffy scene between the lovers works well. I liked also Audrey Fleurot in the scene where Elmire is left to fight off Tartuffe's sexual assault in order to convince Orgon as to his mistake about Tartuffe's virtue. This revelation of course comes too late as Orgon has cut off his son and transferred all his property to Tartuffe.

Elmire's first act dress is an amazing construction of green swirls and flesh coloured net leaving very little to Tartuffe's imagination.

Moliere's way of extricating the plot was the use of the "Deus ex Machina" in the form of a royal intervention. In this production, the intervention is of a presidential figure with the red tie and Twitter habits of Mr Trump. There are several topical references to politics and hyprocrisy which don't improve the production.

What a great shame that this ground breaking bi-lingual production is so disappointing!

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Written by Moliere
Adapted by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Gerald Garutti
Starring: Paul Anderson, Audrey Fleurot, Sebastian Roché, George Blagden, Vincent Winterhalter, Olivia Ross, Claude Perron, Annick Le Goff, Jaz Deol
With: John Faulkner, Paikan Garutti, Nadia Cavelle, Sophie Duez, Zachary Fall,
Design: Andrew D Edwards
Movement: Liana Nyquist
Sound Design: David Gregory
Lighting Design: Paul Anderson
Composed by Laurent Petitgrew
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Note: there are twelve dates when Audrey Fleurot will be replaced by an understudy
Box Office: 020 7930 8800
Booking to 28th July 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th May 2018 performance at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Haymarket, London SW1Y 4HT (Tube: Leicester Square)
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