Melbourne Theatre Company
20 November 2008
The Playhouse, The Arts Centre
Molière penned the original in French rhyme and Justin Fleming’s translation shines as brightly as the 22 fabulous chandeliers glittering over the stage. Fleming’s clever and intricate rhyme scheme changes as the content moves from hypocrisy to true love, and a very effective pattern differentiates Tartuffe. As Dr Seuss proves, none can resist the delight of a rhyming couplet, and beauties like knowledge/porridge, dig it/bigot and chassis/map of Tassie won many well-deserved cackles.
This Hypocrite is directed, designed and performed for laughs. It’s like a panto for grown-ups, with clownish performances, over-the-top costumes, big hair, closet jokes and well-known actors. Who’s not going to laugh at Garry Macdonald (Orgon) in thigh-high, lace up gold boots and a full length, lime-green velvet jacket? There’s even the ultimate “he’s behind you” gag, which becomes evident during the deus ex machina ending.
Kerry Walker is the stand out as Madame Pernelle. She handles the difficult language with ease and creates a grumpy and believable clown. It would be hard for Macdonald and Nicholas Bell (Cléante) to deliver anything other than great; Marina Prior’s comic timing was a welcome surprise; and Martin Sharpe (Laurent), Sara Gleeson (Mariane) and Chris Ryan (Damis) are delightfully petulant teenagers, but need to listen to Kerry in order to master the delivery of rhyme.
It’s also very rare for Kim Gyngell to disappoint. His performance is impeccable, but I wonder about some of the character and direction choices. He’s a sleazy, ridiculous and totally transparent fraud – which Kim does perfectly, but this doesn’t leave any doubt about the rightness of the family and the delusion of Orgon and his mum. It’s hard not to compare it with Malthouse’s recent version of the same work (Tartuffe), but what struck me about Marcus Graham’s Tartuffe was the creation of empathy and doubt. To feel the impact of Tartuffe’s deceit and downfall, we need to know why Orgon and his mother were so besotted with this man and wonder if the family’s opinion of him is selfish and misguided. (And, of course, it would be wrong to compare Kim’s underwear scene to Marcus’s.)
The Hypocrite is like indulging in a vanilla slice from a posh Toorak bakery. It looks scrumptious, is totally enjoyable at the time and much better than a cheap version - but the gratification doesn’t last and you know there are more substantial, nutritious or unforgettable options out there.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.