Tartuffe

Molière
Arcola
(2004)

When Moliere wrote Tartuffe, it is unlikely that he would have anticipated a Turkish production in North London some 340 years later.

Using Ranjit Bolt's translation, adapted to give it a Muslim slant, director Serdar Bilis has great fun with the French classic. He has encouraged his cast to overact, which in certain cases is noticeably showy but in others, particularly the very entertaining Laura-Kate Frances's effusive servant Dorine, works extremely well.

For the first quarter of the play, she holds court and puts her master and mistress, not to mention their daughter whom she serves, into the shade.

It is not until some half-an-hour in that the eponymous anti-hero makes his first appearance. Tartuffe, played by the excellent John Webber, is a 21st century, fundamentalist Muslim, who uses Allah for his own benefit. His religion is the primary subject of his discussion but there is always a feeling that hypocrisy is not too deeply buried beneath his pious surface.

He has wheedled his way into the home and family of the stubbornly naive businessman Orgon (Tony Taylor) and his much younger wife, the obviously American Lara Agar-Stoby's Elmire. In the fullness of time, much the chagrin of her suitor Valère, Orgon offers Tartuffe not only the hand of his daughter Mariane (Esther Adams) but also his wealth.

There is a most amusing scene where the Rasputin-like phony cleric can contain his glee no longer and celebrates his good fortune with his dancing servant.

The finale is most abrupt and almost seems tacked on to allow the play to make a comment on state corruption. It does mean a happy ending for all (well, except for poor old Tartuffe).

The converted industrial building adapts itself well to the Turkish setting thanks to the efforts of designer Jon Bausor using rugs, a sofa, screens and a nargile (hookah or Turkish Hubble Bubble pipe).

The first half of the play could as easily have been set in France and it is only when the muezzins begin to wail and the subject of female modesty comes centre-stage that the audience begins to appreciate the parallels with contemporary Eastern culture. Indeed, the subject of forced marriages is in the headlines regularly today.

This new production of Tartuffe is very entertaining even though the acting is somewhat uneven. The rhyming couplets (some of which don't) seemed to paralyse a couple of the actors.

In the end though, the main parts are all well acted and experiment with Islamicisation seems worthwhile, particularly for a production in a theatre in Dalston where the beer and water on sale in the bar are imported from Turkey.

"Tartuffe" runs until 21st January

Reviewer: Philip Fisher