Malthouse Theatre: Molière's Tartuffe
Molière's Tartuffe so outraged its audience when it premiered, it was immediately banned. The star of the show was a thief, a seducer and a hypocrite... and a man of the cloth!
The holy man, Tartuffe, gets his name from the French work for sanctimonious hypocrite. Tartufe -- with one 'f' -- is a little word with a big meaning.
But how can a modern production capture that sense of outrage? In a world that's survived Jim Jones and Jim Bakker -- you pray, you pay... big time! -- lies and hypocrisy are so commonplace that they no longer have the capacity to shock us.
Louise Fox's adaptation set in 21st century Melbourne doesn't even try. Her play is Tartuffe without tartufe. We watch stupid, wealthy people being conned out of their fortune and evicted from their fortress by a personal trainer with a crucifix.
I think we're supposed to get some ghoulish pleasure from watching the squatocracy getting fleeced. And, yes, they're a contemptible lot: bored, superior, mean, petty and entirely out of touch with the lot of the world. They're vampires in gorgeous white bathers, the lot of them.
But Fox has messed up the balance of the play. Molière's razor-edge satire is completely blunted. What's left is a fluffy and insipid piece of sketch comedy full of puny puns, sight gags (like Andrew Lloyd Webber's superstar Christ, Tartuffe walks on chlorinated water) and cute lines about being born again yesterday.
I'm all ears.Marcus Graham plays Tartuffe as a cult-leading evangelist guru. Only two people fall for his commanding charisma -- Orgon and his mother (both of whom are played by a breathless and uncharacteristically one-dimensional Barry Otto) -- but Tartuffe chooses his victims carefully: the ones with the most money and the most power. Orgon promptly signs over both his wealth and his daughter.
Not much in between it seems.
Matthew Lutton's production is cute and entertaining with its outbreaks of rapping and singing. It's all quite gorgeous to look out with its snaking wrought iron at either end and a lap pool slashing across the middle of the space. And it's well served by its cast, especially Alison Whyte as this garden of Eden's Eve. But this is a garden with no snake in its carefully clipped grass.
This review was published in the Herald Sun on February 26, 2008.