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Tartuffe, Canal Café Theatre

Molière, adapted by Sarah E. Pitard

Directed by Cat Robey
Pros: Great choice of era (1920s) to set this 17th century French classic. The lavish and indulgent background feeds perfectly into the title character’s greed and his champion’s blind charity and devotion.
Cons: The ‘frame’ of the piece (cabaret) was not clear until an out of place reference at the end of the show, and the physical space itself was too small for such an iconic farce. The show did not click overall.
Our Verdict: Paradigm Theatre Company certainly deserves commendation for tackling this larger than life play. Unfortunately, the space constrained the vitality of the production and some of the actors did not seem comfortable with their performances.
Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre Company
Anything in translation is always tricky. With the wrong translator, language – particularly recited out loud to an audience – can appear clunky and awkward, and even the most brilliant piece of writing can fall flat. One would hope that a script that is over 300 years old would develop immunity from such a fate through centuries of being able to hone the perfect translation, but this may have just exposed it to further subjectivity and dilution.
I fear this was the hurdle at which Paradigm Theatre’s production of Tartuffe fell. While the dialogue achieved good pace, there was something lost in the language and henceforth the delivery that deflated the laugh-a-minute play that I remember and indeed, to a degree, some of the larger than life characters whom I looked forward to re-visiting.
In short, the play is a searing farce of the hypocrisy of the religious in 17th century France. Orgon, the patriarch, has taken the greedy Tartuffe – posing as the epitome of modesty and piousness – into his home. While Orgon’s wife, children, brother-in-law and even servants see right through Tartuffe, Orgon is so intoxicated by his supposed high spirituality that he promises him his daughter’s hand in marriage and his entire inheritance as his son-in-law to be. The rest of the family and house hold must dupe Tartuffe to prove his true colours to Orgon but, once Orgon finally does see the light, it is of course too late.
A combination of hyperbolic, colourful characters, great one-liners and dialogue and a subtle but biting political undertone makes it a script that carries massive laughs. However, the effectiveness of the script is heavily dependent on the language, and on a certain confidence on the part of the actors to infuse each of their characters with a life force and a presence that is ten times bigger than themselves. 
Unfortunately, the necessary arrogance and grandeur the characters crave was lacking in the majority of the performances. Katherine Rodden as Dorine, the saucy and over bearing house maid, did get it, commanding the stage with afiery, sparring tongue and a no holds barred attitude. Jeremy Gagan as Tartuffe was on the cusp of a great performance but seemed to hold back on the slime ball element that one expects from the character. The same tentativeness seemed to control his voice which went from soft to softer during fits of emotion, making it difficult to hear a good deal of his performance. Despite the underwhelming performances generally, I do believe that this may be greatly attributed to the small space which restrained the height of the characters and the script.
According to the Director’s Notes in the programme, the limitations of the space (a small cabaret-style venue) were addressed by making the characters cabaret performers. This apparently gave them permission to interact with the audience. While the audience interaction worked well, this frame was only present in the costuming until a reference at the end of the production, which even then did not make the frame clear until I read the Director’s notes. Until then, the characters just looked over-dressed.
While this production did not succeed in my eyes, I am very excited by a young company taking on a repertory system, one of the founding elements of Paradigm Theatre Company. I also believe that, with a few smoothed out edges, this could be a company to watch.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Tartuffe runs at the Canal Café Theatre until 27th April 2013.
Box Office: 0207 289 6054 or book online at http://www.canalcafetheatre.com/EventPage.php?EventId=3016

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