TV Stars Fail To Align In Tartuffe At Theatre Royal Haymarket

Tartuffe, Theatre Royal Haymarket ★★★☆☆

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TV Stars Fail To Align In Tartuffe At Theatre Royal Haymarket Tartuffe, Theatre Royal Haymarket 3
Photo: Helen Maybanks

Our favourite character in Tartuffe is Madame Pernelle, the ferocious grandmère who whirls in at the top of act one and, in a genius piece of exposition by Molière, slags off every single member of the cast. It's a splendidly sarcastic series of putdowns, neatly defining their roles in the ensuing plot about a fake preacher and the family he dupes. That it’s done so stylishly by Annick Le Goff — elegantly dressed, coiffed and poised in this modernised updating — is a delight as she savours the bouncy iambic hexameters which drive the French script, and sets the tone for the play.

It’s fine to perform in a mixture of English and French apart from the fact Christopher Hampton’s translation was done 35 years ago and is flat as a week-old crêpe. There’s no logic in who speaks which, and when you have an actress as soignée as Audrey Fleurot playing the wily and sophisticated Elmire in a succession of gorgeous gowns, her French is lyrical but when obliged to lurch into English she turns into the woman who owns the bar in Death in Paradise.

Photo: Helen Maybanks

The set by Andrew D Edwards is immediately attractive: bright and modern and convincingly Californian, except it contains a glass-fronted box which in turn sometimes contains some of the cast when their expressions and audibility are severely compromised.  It's arty, but it's also self-defeating.

Photo: Helen Maybanks

The production is rammed with people off the telly but mostly from cable and Netflix and the casting is diabolically uneven with a raft of mismatched accents and acting styles. Worst of all as Tartuffe himself, with a Southern drawl even less convincing than Tom Hanks’ in The Green Mile, Paul Anderson — Arthur Shelby Junior in Peaky Blinders — doesn’t seem to have a clue, only coming into his character late in the second act with plausibly sinister anger when he’s exposed as a fraud.

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Tartuffe,  Theatre Royal Haymarket, SW1. Tickets £15-90 until 28 July 2018.

Last Updated 31 May 2018