Review - Tartuffe at the National Theatre

Tartuffe
Our critics rating: 
Date: 
Thursday, 28 February, 2019
Review by: 

For a play that's now 355 years old, Moliere's Tartuffe translates into the here and now with amazing veracity and insight. Humankind is always ready to be gullible and taken in by charlatans offering false promises. Look at Brexit ("£350m a week to the NHS!") and Donald Trump ("Build that wall!")

This rattling new version by John Donnelly relocates it to a contemporary affluent family mansion in Highgate, where the patriarch Orgon - remarried to Elmire after the death of his wife, with two adult children Damis and Mariane-- takes in a local shaman Tartuffe, and is in turn taken for a ride by him as he, in turn, attempts to marry the daughter, seduce the wife, and have his host's fortune signed over to him.

There are also echoes of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem in the strange charisma he exerts that has devoted followers attending to him.

And as played here in a barn-stormingly hilarious performance by the American television and stage actor Denis O'Hare, he's obviously a fraud - the wayward accent that's of indeterminate origin and his elastically mobile body are constantly on the move. But there's also something there that makes you warm to him; Kevin Doyle's Organ wants to believe him, so believe him he does. (Again, I couldn't help thinking of the current G.O.P congressmen who are supporting Trump come what may and whatever the outrages he perpetrates upon his nation and the constitution).

Blanche McIntyre's opulent production - with its glorious living room set by Robert Jones - is full of keenly observed performances that always keep the right side of the hysteria some of them are being provoked to. 

As so often at the National, this is luxuriously cast with some 20 actors populating the stage, and there's particularly rich work from Susan Engel as the grandmother who sees through Tartuffe first, Olivia Williams as her despised daughter-in-law, and Hari Dhillon as the daughter-in-law's brother.

This is a consistently funny but also buoyantly thoughtful production.

Tartuffe is at the National Theatre until 30th April. 

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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