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Phil Willmott

Review: TARTUFFE at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Tartuffe - Theatre Royal Haymarket The comedy TARTUFFE caused quite a stir when it was originally produced by the French actor/playwright Moliere in 1664. It's a satire on how religion is used as a smoke screen for bad behaviour and corruption and it so enraged the church that it was banned, and there were even calls for the writer to be burned at the stake.

As a result the piece became so infamous that five years later it was remounted, became a massive hit and it is now widely regarded as the premiere masterpiece of classical French theatre.

It concerns a householder, Orgon, who is so convinced by a fake holy man, Tartuffe, that he invites him to move in and keeps convincing himself all is well, even as the parasite steals everything he can't screw. Eventually reason prevails thanks to his wife's bravery and a troubling royal intervention.

It's tediously wordy at the best of times but I have seen very funny productions in which dark comedy is found in the ridiculousness of Orgon's gullibility and the glee with which Tartuffe manipulates him. Alas this isn't one of those productions.

Producer Oliver King decided, not unreasonably I suppose, that London would enjoy an English language production. Perhaps because he already had the subtitle machines installed at the Haymarket Theatre from the recent, rather glorious Russian language season, which he General Managed there.

But from this point it all seems to have gone wrong. First director Gerald Garutti decided it would be a bilingual production (why?) and set in Trump's America where he feels religion still holds sufficient sway, although it wouldn't be about fraudsters, his production would be about a fanatic.

Next revered translator, Christopher Hampton, decided it should be set in L.A and Orgon would be a "transplanted French Billionaire whose children, brought up in Anglophile countries are entirely bilingual". So it's a 17th century comedy refocused as a satire about a Trump billionaire, set in America but half performed in French.

What play wouldn't buckle under such pretentious bull sh*t? The comedy doesn't stand a chance, the satire is kindergarten level, the jokes laborious and the poor British TV stars drafted in to do the English bits and presumably attract an audience look so all-at-sea I was embarrassed for them.

Not that this excuses the lazy central performances of Paul Anderson (from TV's PEAKY BLINDERS) as Tarfuffe and especially Sebastian Roche (TV's THE YOUNG POPE and THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) as Oregon; Neither of whom can be bothered to make much effort, preferring to express mental melt-down by just taking off their shirts and showing off their muscle definition.

Nice frocks but the set is a perspex box surrounded by net curtains that trundles unsteadily up and down stage.

Tedious, pretentious and best avoided.