Tartuffe by Molière Review

The Canal Café Theatre

Fringe repertory company, Paradigm presents the fourth and closing production of their inaugural season the French classic, Tartuffe. The stage is set, the red curtain moves a little bit and someone is playing the piano…

The thing about updating the context of a classic text however, is that you absolutely have to commit to it. Otherwise the assumed aesthetic can risk becoming glib, throwaway and at worst a distraction. Paradigm Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe is a solid production of the play but fits somewhere in between the two extremes of updating a context. We are presented with a gorgeously costumed world, but at no point does the cabaret world actively interact with the text. This I feel is a missed opportunity because there is nothing quite like slightly seedy clubs to get the righteous and religious up in arms, and it would add another delicious layer to the devious nature of Tartuffe. A “godly” man all at see in a world of Cabaret would really draw out the parallels of the new context really nicely. When transporting the action of a classic text into the 1920s, it is preferable to embed the new context so that it becomes an intrinsic part of the play.   

Apart from the text, incorporating more cabaret into the style and direction of the performance would have also be a good idea. Some of the best moments of the production involve the sudden intrusion of live music and gorgeously stylised poses from the ensemble. To push this much further and integrate it throughout would be a risk that would have paid off in the Canal Theatre Café, a delightful venue really suited to the cabaret aesthetic. As mentioned previously though the costuming from Shoni Wilkinson was excellent but support from other elements would have lifted it to another level.   

Although, slow to start, the play quickly picks up as the complications in the Molière plot, layer and we are invited to share in the folly of young lovers Mariane and Valère sympathetically and endearingly played by Phoebe Batteson-Brown and John Rogers. The plight of the young all the more poignant as most their elders are proven fools in the face of Tartuffe’s lies. Only the quick-witted maid Dorine (Katherine Rodden) can truly help and she is only a servant. It takes the patriarch Orgon reaching new heights of professional and personal stupidity, going as far to sacrifice his family’s future over to Tartuffe, before the other adults finally work out a plan to out the con-artist and free family from his grip. When a brother’s words of wisdom have no ears, a wife’s virtue comes into play and the trap is set.

The ensemble cast really embraces the complications and the absurdity of the situation and as the show goes along, warm to the humour so by the time Tom Ward-Thomas interferes as Loyal we are as invested as they are in the fate of the family. A nice touch that reinforces this investment is the continual asides and the actors frequently moving throughout the audience tables. So grab a drink, make your way upstairs and enjoy what is currently on offer at The Canal Café Theatre until the 27th April.
Tickets available here.