17th century playwright Molière, is considered one of the masters of literary comedy. One of the greatest exponents of the comedy of manners, he satirised the hypocrisy and pretensions of 17th century French society. Tartuffe or The Impostor (Le Tartuffe or L’Imposteur) is one of his most famous comedies, and one that immediately sparked conflict among the different factions it offended. So widespread and long-lasting has been its appeal that in contemporary French and English a tartuffe is a “hypocritical pretender to piety”.
The play opens with Captain Valere waltzing down the steps and introducing the spectators to the characters and the era. He calls the adaptation “a consummation of marriage between English wit and Gallic flair”.
Matthew Partridge set his adaptation in Restoration England but kept the plot intact. Sir George and his mother Madame Scoldwell are in thrall to Tartuffe. Claiming to be a “Man of God”, the crafty and corrupt Tartuffe wormed his way into the household and has become a veritable tyrant. The rest of the family see him for what he really is, but are unable to expose Tartuffe’s hypocrisy. When Sir George decides to dissolve his daughter’s Marianne’s engagement to the gallant Captain Valere and wed her to Tartuffe, they decide to take action. They hatch a plot to use Tartuffe’s obvious lust for Elmire – Sir George’s wife – against him; expose his perfidy and save the young lovebirds. There is no doubt that Tartuffe is bent on having his way with Elmire. Yet even in the scenes where he attempts to seduce her, he can be seen as dominated by the desire for power.
Undeniably, the play is an enjoyable comedy. The writer has tried and kept the verse structure as much as possible, resulting occasionally in diverting plays of words and has faithfully represented the characters. Karen Collins’ Dorine, the savvy and lippy maid, was a memorable performance.
On the other hand, Tartuffe, rather than diabolical, is crass and slimy. The actors demonstrate their feelings often using grimaces and speaking loudly, which in this case looks more like weak acting rather than a calculated overly-dramatic performance.
It did have flair and wit, but in the end it was just plain pleasing rather than memorable.