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Watermill - Tartuffe

1st February to 18th March 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Seductive couplets

Tartuffe, at The Watermill, until March 18

What a fantastic production. Right up my raunchy theatrical alley, anyhow - Molière's 17th-century French satire on piety, banned by the Church, Ranjit Bolt's 20th century translation for the stage which brings the comic language bang up to date, but retains the spirit of the original, and a cracking cast to deliver his sparkling irregular rhyming couplets, so slick that you don't event know it has been done to you.

Although we don't meet the religious hypocrite Tartuffe until an hour into the action, we know him well from the household he has wheedled his way into, not least through the plain-speaking maid with a mouth like a fish-wife. Their sharp, fast-pace dialogue builds up a picture of his manipulation of the gullible aristocrat Orgon, falling headlong for his piety, and conned of his fortune on the way

When he does make his entrance he is everything they say and more. He makes flesh crawl. But the villain of the piece is exposed by the family's plotting and eventually receives his come-uppance.

Breath was sucked in and eyebrows raised at the smutty terminology but soon the clever, witty script broke the notorious Newbury reserve and it seemed that they really quite liked all this naughtiness.

So much so that "**** me sideways" provoked unexpected bellylaughs, erupting again in the dinner table seduction scene, as Orgon's wife lured Tartuffe to her honey-trap and stalled his sexual advances with "And now you're rushing to the sweet before we've had the soup and meat". Great stuff.

Polished ensemble acting, beautifully designed set and superb lighting - this is one classy show.

TRISH LEE

From Kick FM.

Molière’s Tartuffe is on at the Watermill until 18th March. Molière was a 17th century French playwright – the French equivalent of Shakespeare – and if you’ve struggled with Shakespeare this might put off going to see Tartuffe. But this is an exciting modern translation by Ranjit Bolt in rhyming couplets, full of wit and humour, and quite naughty at times. It’s about a hypocrite who pretends to be saintly to insinuate himself into a rich family. He gets his comeuppance in the end, but not before nearly ruining the family. The acting is excellent and Jonathan Munby’s production is a delight. Go and see it – you won’t be disappointed.

PAUL SHAVE

From The Stage.

Ranjit Bolt’s translation and adaptation of Molière is a masterpiece in rhyming verse providing the restoration comedy with a fascinating mix of witty poetry and contemporary phraseology.

From Marty Cruickshank’s powerful entrance as Madame Pernelle it takes just a few moments into the script for the realisation that the entire play will be in rhyming verse. So well is the piece constructed that it becomes a mental obsession for the audience to pre-empt or eagerly anticipate the next delightful rhyming phrase.

The cast work particularly well with the verse, maintaining a strong level of understanding and breaking the lines up when and where appropriate, adding only to the emphasis of the rhymes and the skill of the adaptor. Patricia Gannon as Dorine (or Doreen as the name is more comically enunciated) has a delightful role as the servant who cannot hold her tongue and enjoys some one-liners that are hilariously shocking.

Des McAleer is the master of the house Orgon who cannot see through the hypocrisy of his new found friend Tartuffe, played with pious duplicity by Adrian Schiller with Sophie Roberts and Matthew Spencer as the naïve lovers Mariane and Valere, perfect roles for two young actors making their professional debuts.

Jonathan Munby directs for full visual effect with the production enjoying a particularly ingenious scene as Tartuffe imagines the pleasures of seducing his host’s wife Elmire (Catherine Kanter) assisted by his aide Laurent (played with deadpan humour by Chris Porter).

JULIE WATTERSTON

From The Guardian.

Three stars
Ranjit Bolt's 1992 translation of Molière's play about religious conman Tartuffe, who infiltrates the home of the gullible wealthy Orgon, is not at all well behaved. It is like a naughty child who climbs on to the roof and sits there spouting bawdy language. It revels in its own cheeky vulgarity as it mixes the lewd with the shrewd. It gets over-excited by its own cleverness, almost falls over and then recovers itself.

There was a time when translators were meek and self-effacing. Now they stamp their own authority all over someone else's work. Molière, if he were still around to complain, might mind a great deal at this creative vandalism, but I can't say that I do. Piety has never been quite such fun. It is refreshingly entertaining, particularly when Bolt leaves a gap in the rhyme so that you can fill in the blank with your own dirty thought.

It would be better still if Jonathan Munby's production had a little more style and swagger of its own. It is plain and serviceable but comes into its own in the scene in which Adrian Schiller's puritan-faced Tartuffe reveals his lascivious nature in the way he eats profiteroles, and another in which he chases Orgon's wife around the table. But sometimes it feels as if the irregular rhyming couplets are running away with the cast, rather than the other way round, leading to some over-egged performances.

Given the times in which we live, Munby has also missed a trick by failing to give a darker edge to this great anti-fundamentalist comedy that points up the dangers of falling prey to religious fanaticism.

But this Molière makeover is an enjoyable romp, and there are some very neat performances, particularly from Patricia Gannon, whose straight-talking maid, Dorine, sniffs out hypocrisy like a beagle.

LYN GARDNER

From The Sunday Times.

Four stars
This is a high-octane production, driven at full force by Jonathan Munby. You can see why Molière came under attack from the church. Tartuffe is a sanctimonious bigot who uses the vocabulary of Christian morality to enslave and rob his dim benefactor. Actually, in Des McAleer’s rock-like performance, he’s not so much dim as stubborn, not easily fooled but, once entrapped, obstinate in the extreme. Adrian Schiller, in a cool, venomous, cunningly varnished performance, captures Tartuffe’s essence, which is the realisation that the best way to castrate your victim is to use his own instruments. Before embarking on his attempt to seduce Mme Orgon (Catherine Kanter), he takes a snack in a blasphemous parody of the Mass: priestly bearing, white tablecloths, candles, a sip of wine, profiteroles delicately eaten. Marty Cruickshank is a magisterially dragonish Mme Pernelle; John McAndrew (Cléante) provides Molièrean common sense without being pompous.

JOHN PETER

From The Telegraph.

If I could sense the audience around me at that first night thinking "I didn't realise it would be this clever, this sophisticated", over in Newbury at the Watermill Theatre, I could almost hear the audience thinking "thank God for Molière". His enduring comedy lampooning insufferable religious phoneys, Tartuffe, was banned in its day, and in Ranjit Bolt's outspoken translation many of the lines striking a chilling contemporary chord.

The star of Jonathan Munby's pert, period-dressed revival is undoubtedly Adrian Schiller, giving a wonderfully understated, unsmiling performance in the lead, but the best speech comes from John McAndrew as the appalled Cléante, who urges Des McAleer's gullible Orgon to wake up and recognise the charlatan in his household: "He is more greatly to be feared / Because his weapons are revered, / His fervour's popular, and so / You will hear people cry 'Bravo! '/ As victims perish in the fire / Of his 'just' wrath, his 'righteous' ire."

Hotheads of all persuasions should take time out to watch it, and then look in the mirror.

DOMINIC CAVENDISH

There is a 4 star review from WhatsOnStage ("extraordinarily atmospheric production ... a top-notch cast ... don't miss it!").

There is a review by Reviews Gate here ("a handsome looking affair ... an exaggerated and posturing series of performances ... subtlety and detail of Molière's analysis of religious corruption is subsumed by a desire to please").