Friday, April 8, 2022

Theatre: Tartuffe

By Molière  

WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Directed by Trent Baker
Set Designer Charlotte Meagher
Lighting Designer Reev Coonan
Sound designer Aaron Davidson
Costume Designer Pia Dewar

Roundhouse Theatre, Edith Cowan University
March 31 – April 6, 2022

Gabrielle Wilson, Radhika Mudaliar and Laura Shaw. (pic: Stephen Heath)
While I’m not sure what Jean-Baptiste Poquelin would have made of Wet Leg’s post-punk hit Chaise Longue intro, or Sweet’s 1970s banger Ballroom Blitz outro, he’d have liked very much what happens between them in this rip-roaring revival of his great satire, Tartuffe.

Certainly the eleven 3rd Year WAAPA acting students who cavorted about the Roundhouse Theatre stage looked and sounded like they were enjoying themselves very much too.

Poquelin, who went by the stage name Molière, delighted in eviscerating the elites of Louis XIV’s Ancien Régime (The Sun King, nevertheless, was an admirer and quite likely, his protector), achieving, with Tartuffe, the illustrious status of being more scandalous than the scandals he was exposing through his satire.

The play has many of the signature features of commedia dell’arte, with the title character a cassocked version of its stock villain/clown Scaramouche.

The show’s original director Clara Voda was unable to travel here to lead the performance, but her replacement, Trent Baker, the Artistic Director of the National Theatre Drama School in Melbourne, and the design students Charlote Meagher (set) and Pia Dewar (costume) have remained true to the spirit, if not the letter, of the great old theatre style.

Tartuffe, the play, needs no verdict from me; its bona fides have been established for four centuries now, and if the interminable delay before Tartuffe makes his first appearance is an irritating indulgence of Molière’s, or the abrupt and outrageous deus ex machina that brings the shyster undone robs the play of a satisfying climax, well there’s plenty of splendid, witty, raunchy, wicked fun to be had before then.

Baker and his cast milk it for all it’s worth in a broad, sexy staging, gorgeously dressed by Meagher and Dewar.

A wealthy bourgeoisie family are outraged by the hold the itinerant priest Tartuffe has over its head, Orgon (Remy Danoy), and his overbearing mother, Madame Parnelle (William Bastow).

Orgon’s wife Elmire (Delia Price), her brother Cléanti (Radhika Mudaliar) and step-children Mariane (Laura Shaw) and Damis (Blaise Tindale) can’t bear the man, but their distaste turns to despair when Orgon announces that Mariane is to break off her engagement to true love Valere (Tinashe Mangwana) and marry Tartuffe.

Mon Dieu! Quelle Horreur! Something must be done!

The something, essentially the exposing of Tartuffe as a shameless roué with carnal designs on Elmire, is hilariously accomplished. But worse is to come…

The cast throw themselves at the hilarity with flair (and flare); all the characters are brought vividly to life, and if some handle the translation’s rhyming couplets better than others, that’s a small matter and a knack that will come with time and 10,000 hours of practice.

Highlights were Shaw’s extraordinary Mariane, squirming, or being dragged, about the stage, with her yelps and squeaks making intelligible dialogue somehow redundant. Ah, the agonies of love.

Just as charming was Mangwana as her sweetheart, the resplendently beefy Valere, as he fought not to lose her.

Love was a much more judicious emotion for Price’s Elmire – going into battle in a stunning 17th Century gown over a decidedly 1950s cocktail outfit –looking like someone who’d done it all before, and well.

Mia Fitzgerald took a nice comic turn or two as the maid Flipote, as did Angelo Torres as the conniving bailiff who very nearly stole Orgon’s house for Tartuffe.

If anything was stolen, though, it was the show – by the housemaid Dorene. She sees everything and sorts everything, and everyone out. Dorene is a masterful creation by Moliere, and Gabrielle Wilson gives her everything she’s got. Wilson’s got great comic chops, searchlight eyes and lightning-fast dramatic reflexes.

Remember the name.  

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