Whilst the cast of the current West End production of Tartuffe perform in a mixture of English and French, the bilingual Exchange Theatre have learned the rhyming couplets of Moliere’s Misanthrope in both languages, to be performed on alternate nights.
The linguistic dexterity required to keep both versions straight is admirable but the production itself is less successful. English translator, leading actor and director David Furlong’s cluttered and tonally inconsistent staging is set in a TV newsroom where celebrated newscaster Alceste risks his career and relationships by rejecting a culture of fawning and flattery in this frightening era of fake news.
The technical challenges of using video for live streaming the actors in front of us and showing clips of the most notorious soundbites of Trump, Le Pen, Farage et al might have been better spent on attention to the clarity of the narrative, which becomes very muddy in the second half and, for a comedy, it’s rarely funny.
In an office full of vile, hedonistic media types, Furlong himself and Simeon Oakes as Alceste’s “go with the flow” friend Philinte fare the best in creating character portraits.
The transitions between scenes are over-choreographed and an opening montage sets up Alceste’s backstory through snippets of social media but it’s hard to focus when there’s so much activity on stage.
The evil of turning a blind eye to evil is all too prescient but the incessant taking of selfies to signify modernity has become the most clichéd of tropes used to ‘modernise’ classic plays.