The Theatre Royal’s ‘Tartuffe’ is the West End’s first ever dual-language production. This adaptation of Molière’s classic comedy, featuring a multinational and multilingual cast, reimagines the titular character as a radical American evangelist disrupting the life of a French film tycoon in Hollywood.
Tartuffe should be commended for its ambition but this is a flawed and confusing adaptation. The choice to flip between French and English is a bold one but I kept on wondering what it added. It features subtitles, perfectly timed to translate the actors’ dialogue, which is well executed. But the contrast in the rhythms of the two languages stopped many of the jokes landing on time (or, often, at all).
With fanatical religion being the original satirical play’s key theme, setting this adaption in modern day America must have seemed like a smart idea in updating the text. Perhaps had writer Christopher Hampton fully committed to this then this could have been a more broadly comedic and contemporary version of the play. But there are too many competing ideas in this iteration of Tartuffe that it ends up becoming confused – and, at times, unintentionally awkward.
It is mostly well acted, with Sebastian Roché, as head of household Orgon, a standout. Mining humour from the willing blindness to the deception inflicted upon him, there are flickers of brilliance (especially as the first act draws to a close). But, sadly, these moments are too few and far between. As Tartuffe, Paul Anderson appears to be channeling one of those benevolent/insane cult leaders you see in a Louie Theroux documentary but it’s too on-the-nose and at odds with the rest of the play. Even though he is playing a fraudster we have to believe he is a good one or why would people believe him?
Finally, let me concede that I do not speak French. Perhaps those who do speak French or both French and English will have a genuinely different experience. Although, in the performance I attended (which was packed out), there were intermittent titters throughout – but not much more.
An ambitious failure. Or, as they say in French, ‘un echec ambitieux’!
Tartuffe has a limited ten-week West End run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and opened on Friday 25th May 2018. Ticket available at www.trh.co.uk/whatson/tartuffe/
Review written by Gareth Brown @GarethBrown26
Gareth regularly writes for ONIN London and works freelance as a writer, journalist and filmmaker.