Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre

Denis O’Hare shines as Tartuffe in Blanche McIntyre’s directorial debut at the National Theatre

“We don’t have orgies here, this is Highgate”

The lure of the guru is one which has always been strong for the rich and powerful and from Rasputin to Steve Hilton, there’s always some long-haired, barefoot chancer to ready step in. This partly explains why Molière’s Tartuffe remains so popular today and also why it is so ripe for adaptation, as it done here in this new version by John Donnelly, directed by Blanche McIntyre in her National Theatre debut (and how to marvellous to see her here, I’ve been a fan since her days at the Finborough).

Relocated to a hyper-rich, modern-day Highgate – Robert Jones’ opulent design is full of the type of wonderful pieces of furniture you normally only see in shop windows on the King’s Road – Orgon’s family have become concerned at his increasing devotion to his new guru figure Tartuffe. And in Denis O’Hare’s hand, you can see why – he’s quite the charismatic chancer, he spends the pre-show roaming the auditorium giving out flowers and affirmations even though it may, at first glance, just look like someone has come in off the street. Continue reading “Review: Tartuffe, National Theatre”

Review: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, Tricycle

“A thick, golden-brown, brickhouse goddess of voluptuous lusciousness”

Marcus Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand was something of a triumph for the Tricycle last year so it is little surprise that Indhu Rubasingham has returned to the playwright for a new production there, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes. An adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe, it shifts the action from seventeenth century Paris to modern-day Atlanta and the world of mega-churches but maintains the air of hypocrisy around its lead character, here renamed Tardimus Toof.

Toof’s church is in a parlous financial position and having long sold himself as having healing powers, turns to fried chicken tycoon Archibald Organdy to lay his hands and fleece his pockets. His lascivious eye, which has wandered over many a female parishioner as he “undresses sin”, turns to Organdy’s mistress Peaches – a never-better Adjoa Andoh – even with Sharon D Clarke’s imperious wife a considerable presence both in church and at home. Continue reading “Review: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, Tricycle”

Review: The Hypochondriac, Richmond Theatre

“Keep your sex and rock’n’roll
But leave the drugs, I’ll take them all”
 

Queer, faggot, poof, shirtlifter…it’s the kind of language that is thankfully becoming rarer in public discourse and yet, it still creeps in with an alarming regularity that means it will be a long time before it truly becomes verboten in a similar manner to the n-word. I raise this as Richard Bean’s recent playwriting is particularly guilty of this – Great Britain had multiple references (though with no published script, I can’t quote ‘em), Made in Dagenham had a handful of faggots and his version of The Hypochondriac features poofs and AIDS jokes, delivered without irony in front of a replica of Gilbert and George’s Spunk Blood Piss Shit Spit.

The arguments are easily made – ‘oh, that is what people said in today’s tabloid offices/1970s factories/sixteenth century France’ – but the worry, for me, comes in the audience reaction and the legitimisation that is implicit in the inclusion of such language in a comedic environment. It is an assumption I’m making but it really doesn’t feel like the laughter that comes from a character being labelled a faggot or poof comes from a good place, or any kind of interrogation of what it means to use such words. Continue reading “Review: The Hypochondriac, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Don Juan – The Destiny of a Libertine, Cockpit Theatre

“All you talk of is heaven” 


The tale of legendary philanderer Don Juan is one which has endured for centuries, told and retold by some of our greatest storytellers and this version by French writer Molière, playing at Marylebone’s Cockpit Theatre, dates back to 1660. Inspired by these Baroque origins, La Compagnie de la Flibuste’s production conjures an effectively theatrical world – evocative dance, sinister masks, lavish costumery and uncomplicated design all combining in support of this telling of the noted lothario’s antics. 

  

Frenchman Xavier Lafaire plays Don Juan as a recognisable dandy, his swaggering cocksure manner making it easy for him to roam the land, sweeping any maiden he wants into his bed uncaring of the impact on her reputation and wrapping any number of merchants around his finger so they’ll forget the unpaid bills. But though facilitated by his resourceful manservant Sganarelle, a most affable turn by Christopher Paddon, and continually bailed out by his exasperated father, the consequences of such a feckless life cannot be outrun forever.


Much of the pleasure in this production comes from the interplay between Don Juan and Sganarelle, the banter between master and servant a constant joy as the responsibility for fending off yet another outraged lover, tailor, family member etc etc falls once again on the hapless help. But Paddon also gives Sganarelle enough feistiness to keep him an interesting character in his own right, passing comment on the self-destructiveness of his master’s actions, even if these warnings go unheeded. 

But the attempts to locate the play on the edge of devilish darkness never really quite works. Director Clement de Dadelsen keeps the dancing spectres that punctuate the action too separate from the actors – they feel like a dispensable extra rather than an integral extension of the land Don Juan roams and which is trying to pull him in – and their interjections also rob the play of a considerable amount of pace. More successful are the macabre masks and excellent costumes which allow the company of six to play multiple roles to often haunting effect, fitfully creating the kind of atmosphere that the play needs.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)

Booking until 8th December

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Tartuffe, Birmingham Rep

“I am a native of Wolverhampton”

Molière in the modern day via the Midlands? Tartuffe is Roxana Silbert’s first production as Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep and sees her bring a distinctly local flavour to this classic French comedy. Chris Campbell’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets and crowbars in a ton of local references and fourth wall breaking to create a highly comic atmosphere, but one which sacrifices any sense of subtlety or depth of character for the quickfire laughs which feel more reminiscent of a panto than anything else.

My main reason for booking, aside from a trip to see the new theatre, was to see Siân Brooke, too long absent from our stages, but the main draw in the case is Mark Williams as Tartuffe, the religious hypocrite who inveigles his way into the household of self-made man Orgon, with designs on both his wife and his daughter. Not everyone falls under his spell though and the situation quickly turns farcical as they try to expose Tartuffe for what he really is, with Aston Villa scarves, jokes about HS2 and funny walks aplenty. Continue reading “Review: Tartuffe, Birmingham Rep”

Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy

“Jesus Christ, you wonder why
I want to curl up and just die”

Try as I might, I was hoping not to be too misanthropic about this production of The Misanthrope, but all the talk of misanthrophy has left me somewhat of a misanthrope myself. It was one of those difficult experiences where it was hard to work out whether I really hadn’t enjoyed the play or if it was just the general experience of the most fidgety couple in the world in front of us forcing a constant search for a decent view, the realisation that we’d actually got quite poor seats despite being expensive (£35 for 3rd row of Royal Circle) and the feeling that we were the only sober people at the party, such was the raucous laughter at every other line. Either way, I was perilously close to leaving at the interval, but stuck it out to the end.

Molière’s Le Misanthrope has been translated and updated to modern-day here by Martin Crimp and follows Alceste (Damien Lewis) a disenchanted playwright whose resolution to reject society and all its hypocrisy and shallowness, is challenged when he falls in love with Jennifer (Keira Knightley), a fame-hungry American filmstar. A timeless enough story, but one made problematic by the unlikeability of Alceste and Lewis’ performance which I found at times to be insufferable. Part of the problem is also in the script though: this is an incredibly self-aware translation, stuffed full of cultural references and one particularly galling joke about people paying £50 to see any old shit on the stage. For me, this just led to a form of mugging on the stage, Lewis might have well have just said ‘nudge nudge wink wink!’ at times. Continue reading “Review: The Misanthrope, Comedy”

Review: Molière or The League of Hypocrites, Finborough

“This man Molière, is he dangerous?
‘He is Satan himself'”

I hadn’t originally intended to see Molière or The League of Hypocrites at the Finborough Theatre due to a packed festive schedule but reconsidered after a gap opened up this afternoon and a couple of realisations occurred to me: having never seen a Molière play before I figured I may as well see one about him before going to see The Misanthrope next week, and also Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The White Guard which arrives at the National Theatre in February, so I thought what the heck and swung on down to SW10.

Explicitly about the French playwright Molière, a huge success in the court of Louis XIV until his plays started to make an enemy of the Church, which devotes its considerable energies to discrediting him by any means possible and ruining him. The play then follows Molière as he struggles to maintain “his integrity under a repressive regime”, a point made all the more poignant by the fact that Bulgakov was writing in Stalin’s Russia, suffering much the same treatment and risking it all by writing such plays. Continue reading “Review: Molière or The League of Hypocrites, Finborough”