The Cast. Photo by Deanne Scott
New version by Justin Fleming
Qld Theatre and Black Swan Theatre presentation
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Season: November 12-December 4. Running time: two hours 30 minutes including interval. Bookings: Bookings: 136 246 or www.queenslandtheatre.com.au
I had forgotten that Tartuffe was written in rhyming couplets so it was a surprise to the ears when the show opened and it took a few minutes to adjust. But the text was so brilliantly written by Justin Fleming that it was like listening to Dr Seuss for grown-ups. With some neat little modern references and impeccable timing from the cast it turned into an hilarious couple of hours of comic entertainment.
It contained everything from slapstick and mugging to wit and poetic tricks, and despite its 17th century pedigree, the themes of family dysfunction, sexual games and power grabs, and religious conmen, were brought magically up to date.
There were a lot of monologues and dialogues and after a frantic opening on an amazing revolve set by Richard Roberts with characters running in and out and up and down the double storey set the scene was set by Jenny Davis as Grandma – Madame Pernelle.
Madame was besotted by Tartuffe, a self proclaimed holy man, as was her son Orgon (Steve Turner). The rest of the family however had seen through this so far unseen crook. Granddaughter Marianne (Tessa Lind) is set to marry Valiere (James Sweeny) until Dad decided to give her to Tartuffe instead.
Then all hell breaks loose, aided and abetted by the mini-skirted Emily Weir who played the maid Dorine. This was her first professional production after studying at QUT in Brisbane and she did a marvellous job, as she poked her nose into everyone’s affairs as she attempted to thwart Orgon’s dastardly plan.
The play ran at breathtaking pace as a good farce should and every actor was perfectly cast into the role. Hugh Parker (Cleante), Alison van Reeken (Orgon’s wife Elmira) and Alex Williams as the overwrought young son “don’t touch the hair” Damis all slotted neatly into the action.
We all laughed at the rib-tickling jokes and our curiosity slowly increased as we awaited the entry of Tartuffe himself.
And his entrance was no disappointment. Darren Gilshenan, with (for those old enough to remember) a Benny Hill leer and long hair that he kept slicking back over his ear. He was a deliciously unsavoury man that audience loved to hate; a villain in classic farcical terms.
Where he was being offered Marianne as a bride, his lecherous eyes were on Elmira and his attempts at seduction were a highlight of the night, as Elmira coolly rebuffs him. He is overheard however by young Damis, who is furious but delighted to be able to debunk the Tartuffe myth of holiness.
However dad won’t have a bar of Damis’s evidence and banishes his son from the house.
Then Elmira has had enough and with husband under a bale set out to prove Tartuffe;s real character in a seduction scene that was excruciatingly funny. No chuckles here, just out and out belly laughs, It was one of the funniest scenes I have seen for a long time and was brilliantly performed.
So Tartuffe was outed and his duplicity revealed, but the plot twisted again and he holds sway over the distraught family. But he reaps his just reward in, again, a modern and comic way that was the perfect end to a terrific night at the theatre.