Fresh fresher flesh fails to warm CAITLIN DOHERTY’s stony socialist heart.
ADC Theatre, 15th-19th November, 7.45pm, £8-10
Directed by Peter Sigurdson
The ADC Freshers’ production of Tartuffe was, to quote a young and noted poet, mostly silly. It didn’t make me laugh very much, but my heart is cold and stony and I take things way too seriously I’m told (like politics).
Much as I normally like silly things anyway, I like silly things best of all when their creators are aware of the various social and historical contexts that their silly things participate in and are formed by. Unfortunately, Peter Sigurdson’s direction did very little to bring any of the political (SORRY) tensions, which are so operative in Molière’s writing, out onto the big and scary ADC stage.
That said, contextualising Molière’s a difficult thing if you want to market your play as a light-hearted comedy of manners. And that was the tone this production seemed to be aiming for: poor people have funny accents, don’t they! Stupid rich people can’t walk properly, isn’t that true?! You know what’s also really funny? Gay sex! Shall we put some of that in for laughs as well? Why not? It’ll give the ADC a chance to FINALLY reap back some of the money they invested on that gimp mask. Y’know, before the recession hit so damned hard.
Charlotte Quinney, as Dorine, cut an impressive figure on stage and deserves credit for her projection and stance. This may seem like damning through faint praise, but I was continually thankful for Quinney’s ability to ground herself before attempting any moments of physical ‘comedy’, when other members of the cast seemed to have difficulty remembering what ankles are for.
Justin Wells’ performance as Tartuffe was unrelentingly annoying, though I’m aware that this may be more a directorial fault than a failure on the part of the actor. Tartuffe is a slimeball, a manipulator of other people’s faith and goodwill. And the whole point of the character is that there’s some semblance of believability to the narrative’s psychology. Maybe you’ll get duped by an impious fraud too, maybe you already have been, maybe the Catholic church of the 17thcentury is actually just a big hustle (!). Though the acting never made any pretense towards being naturalistic, Wells played – no, gurned – his role for laughs throughout and, as a result, failed to capitalise on the occasions where he could have pitched for something darker and more distasteful, in a way that wasn’t reliant on camp nipple-rubbing.
India Lewis’ set design made the most of an aesthetic that valued a supposed historical authenticity at the expense of looking bright and tacky. The doors built into the flats were sensibly placed to allow the actors to cross each others’ paths without the stage becoming an physicalisation of the Spaghetti Junction, as often happens in proscenium period pieces. It’s one of the ADC’s design syllogisms that chaise longue equals rococo, just as a gramophone manages to erroneously convey the Victorian age. Though Lewis’ work left room for some nicely blocked moments, it could have done with a bit more creative flair. But that’s a confidence trick I suppose, and – as I’m sure the comments will remind me – at the end of the day, they are mere Freshers.
With this in mind, then, I suppose something should be said about how this is a promising start to a lot of student theatrical careers. Except I’m not so sure that it was. Yes, Tartuffe was competent, and succeeded at getting mindless laughs for morsels of technically sloppy clowning, but I’d like to see the members of this cast try something a little more inventive and exciting for their next CamDram manoeuvre. And can we stop making jokes about bumming now, please.