Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: TARTUFFE, Theatre Royal Haymarket

TartuffeThe Royal Haymarket Theatre's new production of Tartuffe reimagines the classic Molière comedy in the West End's first ever dual-language production. The play, adapted by Christopher Hampton, sets the satire in contemporary Los Angeles, with hints at Donald Trump replacing original references to King Louis XIV. It's a surprisingly funny and disarmingly relevant modernisation, supported by a cast of English and French actors who have done impressive work across theatre, film, and television.

TartuffeThis Tartuffe, directed by Gérald Garutti, tells the tale of a French family living in Hollywood whose patriarch Orgon is completely duped by a radical American evangelist.

While his son, daughter, brother, and second wife attempt to show him the man's duplicity, Orgon and his mother remain steadfast in their belief in the 'holy' man. (A comparison could easily be made to Rasputin and the Russian royal family.)

The play was written in 1664 but originally banned by King Louis XIV. Hampton has translated about half of the play into English, in addition to peppering a handful modern references throughout it. The English text is in blank verse and its informality can sometimes seem at odds next to the more classic French Alexandrine metre.

The production is supported by the Institut Français and has subtitles for the opposite language of whichever is being spoken at any time (when an actor is speaking in English, French subtitles appear). While they have several screens placed throughout the theatre, I did sometimes feel I was missing the actual acting and performances due to reading the subtitles.

Paul Anderson makes his West End debut as the titular character. Best known for his work in film and on the television show Peaky Blinders, he is strangely charming as the American evangelist. Even as you watch him manipulate Orgon and the others around him, he seems harmless, even to the point of being a bit goofy, which makes it all the more chilling when his darker side is revealed.

French actress Audrey Fleurot is brilliant as Orgon's wife, the cool and elegant Elmire. She is delightfully funny in the role and wears some gorgeous gowns. Sebastian Roché, known for The Young Pope and The Man in the High Castle, is amusing as the besotted Orgon, who is oblivious to his family's concern over his beloved Tartuffe. In the second half of the show, he showed a commendable vulnerability.

There's some wonderful irony in George Blagden playing Orgon's son, Damis, as he's well known for playing King Louis XIV in the television show Versailles, the same king who banned this play. Blagden's disgruntled, spirited Damis, who is desperate to open his father's eyes and defend his stepmother, makes it easy for the audience to root for him.

Seasoned French actor Vincent Winterhalter, with an impressive CV that stretches across television, film, and theatre, plays Orgon's brother, Cléante. I felt he was the best at delivering the almost cavalier humour of the piece, as he tries to reason with Tartuffe and Orgon.

The one downfall of the piece is its set, designed by Andrew D. Edwards. While it's aesthetically pleasing and gives the right vibe for a show set in Hollywood, it is lacking in functionality. The glass box makes people's voices sound rather odd when they're in it and when the piece moves backwards and forwards, it makes an awkward noise. Sometimes the use of it doesn't actually add anything to the production.

At times the modernisation also feels a bit forced, but always retains its humour. The ending of the piece is littered with references to Donald Trump without ever having to say his name. The modern dress, mobile phones and references to social media update the piece without having to change too much of the original text.

I plan on returning to see Tartuffe a second time and hopefully I'll be able to concentrate a bit more on the acting instead of trying to keep up with the subtitles. Even after over a decade of studying French, it was hard to understand everything and I did have to rely on the screens in the French-heavy parts. However, I appreciate that the show took a risk and overall, it paid off.

This tale of a man who is nearly able to con someone out of his wealth and family through his trickery, though written in the 17th century, feels alarmingly timely in our current political situation here in the UK and in America.

Tartuffe has delicious moments of tension, wicked satirical humour, and an impressive blend of some wonderful talent from England and France. Will this be the first of more dual-language productions in the West End? Only time will tell.

Tartuffe is at Theatre Royal Haymarket to 28 July.

Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks



Related Stories

From This Author - Nicole Ackman

Nicole Ackman returned to her native Raleigh, North Carolina after living in London and New York City. She studied communications and history at Elon University and earned her Master’s in Art... (read more about this author)


BWW Review: ELF THE MUSICAL National Tour, DPACBWW Review: ELF THE MUSICAL National Tour, DPAC
December 1, 2022

Elf, which was released in 2003, has undoubtedly achieved that status with its endlessly quotable lines and endearingly funny performance by Will Ferrell as Buddy. Many of these beloved holiday films have been adapted for the stage, like White Christmas and A Christmas Story, so it’s natural that Elf has received the same treatment.

BWW Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, Theatre RaleighBWW Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, Theatre Raleigh
September 17, 2022

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG might just be one of the funniest concepts to grace the stage of a theater in the past fifty years. The play, by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer, depicts a theater group putting on a performance of “The Murder at Haversham Manor” that goes disastrously wrong from its first minutes.

BWW Review: CITY OF ANGELS, Theatre RaleighBWW Review: CITY OF ANGELS, Theatre Raleigh
August 10, 2022

You could still smell the new paint in the newly refurbished theater during the opening night of Theatre Raleigh’s CITY OF ANGELS. It’s fitting that director and choreographer Lauren Kennedy Brady was fulfilling a dream of bringing this production to life while also debuting the company’s new theater.

BWW Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD National Tour, DPACBWW Review: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD National Tour, DPAC
August 5, 2022

Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD opened on Broadway in 2018. (Yes, that Aaron Sorkin). Directed by Bartlett Sher, the play transports the audience to Alabama in 1934, where Atticus Finch is representing a Black man falsely accused of sexual assault.

BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR National Tour, DPACBWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR National Tour, DPAC
June 19, 2022

When JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR first premiered in 1972, it was banned by the BBC for being “sacrilegious.” The musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, imagines the last week in the life of Jesus Christ in the form of a sung-through rock opera. The tour currently at DPAC plays into the rock side of the musical.