Written and adapted by John Donnelly, this new version of Molière’s classic Tartuffe crashes together satire, absurdity and morality in just over two hours of theatrical brilliance. Originally scripted to lampoon aristocracy, and point out the inequality of 17th century France’s class system, the social commentary still packs a punch 350 years on.
In this new version, hilariously, the eponymous imposter (Denis O’Hare) is no longer a pious charlatan dressed in clerical robes, but rather a modern day vagrant, with a penchant for yoga, tie-dye and faux-polytheism. Indeed, our 21st century hypocrite is observational of a new social preacher, using ‘love’ and ‘honesty’ to undermine others and assert themselves atop an ethical hierarchy.
The set and costume design (Robert Jones) astutely strengthen this revision. Gauche bottle-green panelling surrounds velvet furniture, and a looming gold Michelangelo’s David, all working together to provide the perfect backdrop and visual representation of the characters’ empty consumerism.
Directed by Blanche McIntyre, the cast acts with a rare energy: a strong feeling comes across that the actors have spent hours getting to know each other in rehearsals. The physical comedy direction (Toby Park) finds humour in the simplest of movements and use of props. In the title role, O’Hare in particular takes physical comedy to new levels.
Geoffrey Lumb steals every scene he’s in as Valère, the romantic lead, filling the stage, and delivering his lines with skilled timing. A true highlight is Valère’s first scene with Mariane (Kitty Archer), who performs a very well-studied take on an entitled millennial.
Donnelly has breathed new life into an established classic. He may have adapted a centuries-old play, but Tartuffe’s satire is as biting and alive as if it were written yesterday.
Playing the Lyttelton Theatre until 30 April 2019.