TARTUFFE, OR THE IMPOSTER by Molière, (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin)
Comedy is notorious for its inability to properly translate from one language to another or from once upon then to the here and now. It is quite undeniable that the fitful psycho-familial rantings of King Lear do move us so; as do other 17th Century sensations such as Henry V's Azincourt call-to-arms or our Jew of Malta's enkindled response to a naughty daughter's apostatizing Semitical dis (the burning down of her nunnery to kill NONE but her; but instead killing ALL but her) . . . alright...that has the merit of mirth in a rather sick, sad, base, colour and hue. But genuinely intended time-worn giggles and humour from yesterday invariably fall flat upon contemporary ears and sensibilities. Flat they fall invariably, BUT FOR Jean-Baptiste Poquelin a.k.a. the grand French playwright of clever comedies, Molière.
Without too much contemporary tinkering, Molière's 17th century play 'Tartuffe, or the Imposter' is the Royal Shakespeare Company's brightest and most pleasant production. Chris Hampton's adaptation from the original French text is faithful AND funnythe text DOES translateand this a supreme credit to Molière's transcendent creative merit.
The casting is as good as for one could wish for such a production. Nigel Hawthorne is Orgon, the inforbearant father taken twice by our imposter Tartuffe. Alison Steadman is Elmire, his wife and better-minded better half into whose knickers our principal wishes to get. Try as she might, Elmire can not nearly sway away or temper Orgon's supplicative genuflexions for Tartuffe.
Lesley Sharp and Ian Talbot play Mariane and Valère, the in-and-out-of-love, might-be, could-be lovers; and Stephanie Fayerman plays (and quite obviously love to play) the family's impertinent maid. A girl, by her low birth and ignoble breeding, so often improperly punctures her way into any and nearly all conversations her opinions, which as invariably as her interruptions are in opposition to father Orgon's. And then there is our principal; the man to which this play lends a title: Antony Sher: the Imposter.
The acutely brilliant Sir Antony Sher is herein as acutely brilliant as ever before or since. Sher is unquestionably a Tartuffe that would find love with Molière himself. He is the ever-so-well-played clever Tartuffe; he is the ever-so-well-played wicked and dissembling Tartuffe. But standing tall and inclining in oblique coital preparedness above all, he is the Tartuffe hopelessly aroused by Elmire's (Steadman's) ample merits. Setting is eyes and other assorted bits upon Orgon's wife, Elmire, the perfidiously prophetically wise Tartuffe wages all earned faith and currency from the family for a less ecumenical inclination toward Elmire.
The 1983 BBC Royal Shakespeare Company's production of 'Tartuffe, or the Imposter' is, I'm sure, available at better libraries and rental outlets. It is well worth the effort of renting; and for others better worth the effort of purchase.
Molière's worksthis Tartuffe MOST among all othersshall never corrode. It is a clever play and a funny play that is rendered so well by the Royal Shakespeare Company; and not a play without some distinct relevance to today's world of demiprophets, prevaricators, shanks, shysters and story-tellers. As comedy is the voice the clever mind at muse, so Antony Sher is the voice, and Molière his muse; and this is a clear masterwork of humour.
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