BWW Review: TARTUFFE, National Theatre
Tartuffe, which has just opened at the National, is quick, clever, and frightening.
Going on a new adaptation by John Donnelly, which transplants the action to modern-day London, and a delicious set by Robert Jones - so decadent it chews the actors - this new, politically charged production is disquietingly relevant.
It is also wickedly funny.
Orgon - affluent family man - upsets the natural order of his household when he invites a street prophet called Tartuffe to move in with them. Taken in by Tartuffe's wisdom-cum-religion, Orgon allows his houseguest to preach in the halls of his posh London manse. The wife and kids call bollocks right away, but there's not much they can do.
Olivia Williams as Orgon's second wife, Elmire, long-suffering but not yet beaten, is accessible and inspiring, but not too good to provoke a laugh. Kitty Archer plays her step-daughter, Mariane, with a winning duplicity: she is ditzy but bold, clever but clueless, and spot on in her timing.
Denis O'Hare's Tartuffe is the scariest character I've seen on stage in a long time - no easy feat in tearaway trousers.
If there's a weakness in this production, it's the lengthy first act, which sags with explanation no one asked for. Still, the dialoguing is broken up nicely by well-quipped quips and excellent physical comedy.
Despite its laughs, Tartuffe is principally a political play. But, unlike the heavy-handed messaging behind a lot of the big shows this season - how much Arthur Miller can London audiences take? - Tartuffe pulls the other direction, critiquing the armchair activists, the woke folk, the theatregoing class who believe a poem - or a play - can change the world.
Who do you think you are?
The cynicism is refreshing, even if underneath it all sits the uncomfortable suggestion that solidarity is impossible. Progress, Tartuffe seems to argue, comes about only when it's in the interest of a frightened ruling class.
And maybe Tartuffe is right. Director Blanche McIntyre makes the right calls on the set, on the direction, on the casting. On the music and the lighting, on the costumes and the details I was too busy laughing to notice. So maybe Tartuffe knows what it's talking about it when it spits on its audience and gets applause.
Tartuffe at the National Theatre until 30 April
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan