Tartuffe by Molière was translated by Anne-Lise Vassoille and Jane Jones, and was directed by Anne-Lise Vassoille with the assistance of Jane Jones. It was performed at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, from 10th to 13th April 2019.
Georges, master of the house - Ian Jones
Tartuffe, a falsely pious man - Hugh Blake-James
Madame Pernelle, mother of Georges - Marcia Bennie
Suzanne, wife of Georges - Elena Markham
Marianne, daughter of Georges - Philippa Watts
Daniel, son of Georges - Jean-Paul Lever
Nicole, the housekeeper - Gill Daly
Claude, brother of Suzanne - David Gresham
Antoine, fiancé of Marianne - Mark Kelleher
Monsieur Loyal - Andrew Cunningham
Lieutenant - Bill Bailey
Director - Anne-Lise Vassoille
Assistant Director/Production Manager - Jane Jones
Stage Management Team - Lynda Hansom, Alex Curran and
Lighting - Emily Lamm
Sound - Lydia Dickie
Costumes - Ruth Gordon-Weeks
Hair & make-up - Denise Biffen
Front of House - Judy Douglas
Prompt - Katrina Rublowsky
Publicity - Annajane Glyn-Sheppard
Publicity Design - Michael Marsden
Box Office - Jan Rae
Review by Lesley Hedley
Wow! This skilfully translated and updated version of Molière’s most famous play is a real tour de force. The setting is the early 1960s, not long before France experienced the social and political upheaval of the 1968 riots. Society is on a cusp. The older members of the family still retain many of the values of the past but modernity is creeping in. General de Gaulle, the great wartime hero and saviour of France, is president of France and at the height of his powers.
The set reflects this beautifully with a few well-chosen pieces of traditional furniture sharing the room with a genuine Dansette record player and LPs by Françoise Hardy.
Anne-Lise and Jane’s decision to translate the French into idiomatic English prose was spot-on. The dialogue reflected the era perfectly and the language flowed effortlessly throughout. All translators hope that their work will sound as if it had been written in English originally and this certainly did.
Tartuffe has moved in with the family at the invitation of Georges, the man of the house, who admires him for his faith and the moral example he sets. The rest of the household sees him for the hypocrite and sponger he is and cannot understand why Georges and his mother have been duped by his false piety. Matters really come to a head when Georges tells his daughter Marianne that he no longer wants her to marry her boyfriend Antoine, even though the pair are in love and it would be good for the family business. Instead he wishes her to marry Tartuffe and welcome him into the family. Marianne is both appalled and devastated as is the rest of the household. An elaborate ruse, spearheaded by Georges’s wife Suzanne, aided and abetted by the housekeeper Nicole, brings him to his senses but it is too late as Tartuffe is already in possession of the house and a crucial briefcase. However, as in the Molière original, a deus ex machina intervenes at the last moment and saves the day.
The action centres on the process of persuading Georges of the error of his ways and provides plenty of humour both visual and verbal along the way. The audience reaction the night I was there ranged from low chuckles to loud laughter.
Performances were very strong across the board. Hugh Blake-James was thoroughly unpleasant as Tartuffe. His greasy hair and unkempt appearance (suggesting poor personal hygiene) echoed the oiliness and general repulsiveness of his personality. Once unmasked his facial expressions and gestures behind the backs of the family were a real treat. Gill Daly as the outspoken, interfering housekeeper with a heart of gold was both forceful and highly amusing. Georges may be wealthy but he is a stupid man and easily duped. Ian Jones played him as a pious idiot who nevertheless is a big enough person to admit his mistake, if only when presented with irrefutable evidence. Marcia Bennie as his equally deluded and snooty mother was suitably imperious. Elena Markham as Georges’s worldly wife was spot on, delivering a truly superb performance when attempting to seduce Tartuffe. The scene was a major highlight of the play. Philippa Watts gave us a Marianne who feels powerless as she cannot bring herself to disobey her father, while Jean-Paul Lever clearly enjoyed playing her permanently angry brother Daniel. Dave Gresham was every inch the ponderous academic brother-in-law Claude, and Mark Kelleher played the easily offended Antoine just right.
The production crew did a wonderful job too; lighting, sound and scene changes were seamless so that the audience’s attention never wandered from the action on the stage.
Tartuffe is very much in vogue at present. Both the RSC and the National Theatre have recently staged radical new versions of the play to critical acclaim. By contrast a West End production in French with English surtitles was not well received. This production is up there with those of the RSC and the National Theatre.
It was a truly pleasurable evening. Well done everyone!