Tartuffe The Imposter at National Theatre, rewritten by John Donnelly and directed by Blanche McIntyre, offers a fresh and relevant discourse of modern day problems in a take on one of the most popular French plays in history.
This new version of Molière’s classic comedy Tartuffe, follows the original script closely, reworking just a few of the plot twists from the 17th-century play to better fit contemporary political and social context. We still follow the story of Orgon, a middle-aged businessman who has met the so-called religious and moral guru Tartuffe (Denis O’Hare). Orgon sets upon the idea of marrying Tartuffe to his only daughter, Mariane and pursues this ambition blindly, ignoring all efforts of relatives and friends to point out the real face of Tartuffe, the imposter and liar.
The range of topics the play explores is broad: from morality and individual beliefs versus general truths, and happiness, to sexuality and financial independence. They have bothered humanity for ages, and still, they are relevantly modern. We eagerly follow the arguments between the characters, waiting for the great answers to all our personal questions to be revealed.
In the key philosophic and socio-political parts of the play, the text is kept close to the original, while the humorous elements and chats between individual characters are modernised and sometimes transformed significantly. It’s especially noticeable in the first dialogue between Orgon (Kevin Doyle) and Mariane (Kitty Archer), who mention social media, sexual education, feminism, and other relatively modern concepts.
The characters of Mariane’s boyfriend, Valere (Geoffrey Lumb), and Orgon’s brother-in-law, Cleante (Hari Dhillon), also differ significantly from the classic play. The first is turned into a caricature socialist poet who denies the power of money (and rhymes in his poetry as the bourgeois limitation for the real art) but does not mind the donations and charitable support for the cause of Socialistic revolution.
The latter is a typical rich bourgeois, who spends all days in committees and boards of charitable funds, believing in the relativity of moral, but acting to change the world for better. Each and every character in the play fits the frame of one or another stereotype, and it’s exactly how satire should work.
The whole cast is particularly strong, with exceptionally good performances by Kevin Doyle and Hari Dhillon. The soundtrack from Ben and Max Ringham offered an original combination of classic Christian blended with modern hip-hop. Oliver Fenwick’s lightning and Robert Jones’ stage design were efficient, and the set felt perfectly suited for the production.
Overall, this production of Tartuffe is a high-quality offering which modernises the classic play, yet treats the source text with care and does it honour. A funny, satiric and thoughtful comedy.