For what’s being billed as the first bilingual production to open in the West End, French director Gerald Garutti and adaptor Christopher Hampton have relocated Moliere’s satire to Los Angeles.
Orgon (Sebastian Roche) is now a wealthy expat Frenchman. Tartuffe (played by Peaky Blinders’ Paul Anderson) is his religious guru. Having taken up residence in Orgon’s house, he successfully wheedles his way into his family and finances.
This relocation to the world of the 1% makes a sort of sense dramatically. These people may have all the money in the world but they still crave spiritual guidance. But it’s never clear what point the production is trying to make.
Orgon is so taken with Tartuffe that he decides to marry him off to his daughter Mariane. This is the last straw for his family. Already frustrated at the way Orgon has fallen for Tartuffe’s performance of piety, they plot to expose Tartuffe for the fraud they believe him to be. Orgon’s wife Elmire, played by Audrey Fleurot from hit French TV show Spiral, sets out to trap him into revealing his baser tendencies by using herself as bait.
Anderson, shaggily bearded with a crop of prison tattoos concealed under his loose linen shirt, spends a lot of time either stretching out his arms in Christ-like poses or laying his head in Orgon’s lap like a puppy while speaking in a honeyed southern drawl. Fleurot glides around the stage in haute couture gowns, her anger visibly building at Tartuffe’s presence in her home, but neither of them are particularly convincing. It’s Roche’s performance, as the gullible Orgon, that feels the most complete.
The play shifts backwards and forwards between French Alexandrine metre and English blank verse in a way that often feels disjointed. Andrew D Edwards’ set, consisting of a glossy box fronted with privacy glass, lit in neon shades and surrounded by what appears to be an infinity pool, looks sleek, but is actually spectacularly cumbersome. When the actors are inside the box it distorts their voices and makes it harder to tell what’s going on.
Garutti’s production opens with one of those wearyingly generic party scenes in which people swig from champagne bottles and crawl around on all fours in order to signal moral decay, but afterwards it slows to a far statelier pace. It ends up feeling both clinical and clunky, something not helped by the cast spending an awful lot of the first half hopping on and off a large green sofa. No human being, Tom Cruise aside, has ever interacted with furniture in this way.
The Trump references that conclude the production draw big laughs but they’re delivered with boxing-glove subtlety. They feel incredibly blunt and out of keeping with what has gone before.