November 09, 2016

Extra garnish taints pure flavours of this truffle

by Moliere
Adapted by Phillip Kavanagh
State Theatre Company and Brink Productions
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
November 8. Tickets: $ 28 – $72.
Bookings : BASS 131246 or
Until November 20.
Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.

Moliere said that the greatest blow to vice was to expose it to laughter. In 1666 he wrote –“We can stand being reprehended, but not being mocked. We are willing to be wicked, but not ridiculous.” And so, in his masterpiece Tartuffe, he used his formidable comic genius to lampoon one of the most durable of all vices: religious hypocrisy.

The respected Parisian citizen, Orgon, entranced by the conspicuously religious zeal of a holy man, brings him into his household to provide spiritual counsel to his whole family. His mother is impressed, but the rest of the family immediately smells a rat. By then, however, Tartuffe, the intruder in the house of order, has already brought chaos and potential disaster.

For Brink Productions’ joint venture with State Theatre, director Chris Drummond has emphasised the pace of the farce and the rambunctious commedia origins of Moliere’s text. Using a new adaptation by Phillip Kavanagh, which includes a nod of the cap to Christopher Hampton’s 1983 prose version for the Royal Shakespeare Company, this Tartuffe has more than its share of additional pop culture and political in-jokes, ooh-er double entendres, zany asides and goonishness. It’s all fun, but not everything serves the play –  expletives become false notes, the bawdy sometimes falls flat, and the wit and satiric aplomb of the original text risks becoming Carry On Tartuffe instead.

Lit with creamy brightness by Nigel Levings, Michael Hankin’s design is elegantly spare. Five huge chandeliers preside over a minimal décor, with marble tiles on the stage, and stylishly simple costumes in soft pastels which deftly suggest the period without fuss.

The performances vary and are sometimes hostage to the whims of the script. Paul Blackwell is at his reliable best as the duped, but tyrannical Orgon, Astrid Pill captures the intelligence and charm of Elmire, Guy O’Grady does well as the hot-headed Damis and Rory Walker’s Cleante, a key voice of reason in the play and not quite the duffer the script suggests, is excellent.

As Dorine the maid, another strategically important role, Jacqy Phillips is at times too broad and not helped by extraneous additions which undermine our sense of her forthright courage in defence of the family. Rachel Burke and Antoine Jelk play the gormless lovers and Alan John not only provides the keyboard music on stage but, dressed in a formidable barricade of a costume, delivers a panto turn as Madame Pernelle.

Commanding in the lead, Nathan O’Keefe is lasciviously reptilian as Tartuffe, the predatory conman, in distressed black jeans and long tunic. With his lank hair he is part Rasputin, part decadent cult patriarch, spinning his pious sophistries and smiling villainies. His faux-impromptu prologue was disarming and his closing speech – Kavanagh’s bold variation on the King’s proclamation – lit up the house.

Murray Bramwell

“Extra garnish taints pure flavours of this truffle”, The Australian, November 10, 2016, p.34.

1 Comment »

  1. Although I purposely kept away from the play for reasons approaching Murray Bramwell’s monumental crit, it could actually just trigger in me the desire to go and see the play out of sheer curiosity.

    Comment by Etiennette — November 17, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment