BBC Radio 3, 5 July 2009
This version of Moliere's classic comedy transformed the text into a
series of rhyming couplets in colloquial English punctuated by excruciating rhymes ("when I see 'em, hey carpe diem;"
"in a word, merde." The accents varied from the received pronunciation of Orgon (Joseph Alessi) to the broad Liverpudlian
of Monsieur Loyal the bailiff (Alan Stocks), indicating that the action of the play embraced an entire community.
The main focus of Gemma Bodinetz's revival centred on power, its uses and abuses.
Orgon considered himself a man of influence and good judgment, who invited Tartuffe (John Ramm) into his house to complete
his family's moral education. As the action unfolded, it became clear that Tartuffe held all the aces - a consummate actor,
he could turn on the charm when required, or act contrite when he believed himself the cause of intra-familial conflict between
Orgon and his son Damis (Robert Hastie). Other family members challenged Tartuffe's supremacy: Cléante (Simon Coates) retained
a clear-eyed understanding of the hypocrite's true intentions, while Elmire (Rebecca Lacey) concocted an elaborate scheme
to expose Tartuffe as an ageing Lothario. However both lacked Tartuffe's virtuosity: Cléante was a sententious old bore, while
Elmire retained a naive trust in her husband's judgement - a foolish thing to do, as it turned out. Orgon signed the deeds
of his house over to the hypocrite, which looked like the end of the power struggle. In a clever twist, however, an officer
of King Louis appeared played by McGough himself. The author/adapter was clearly not willing to permit evil to go unpunished
- even if it required him to intervene directly.
This revival was full of joyous jokes. To underline Tartuffe's falseness, the family
pronounced his name in a deliberately exaggerated manner ("Tartuff-er.") Another running joke
consisted of the characters quoting certain hackneyed English proverbs and then trying to define them (the illusion being
that they were actually speaking French to one another). However the proverbs they chose were so clichéd that everyone kept
responding "We know!!" For those old enough to remember it, this conceit reminded us of Carry on Cleo (1964), when
Kenneth Williams' Caesar began his speech ("Friends, Romans ..."), and one of his fellow-Romans supplied the final word ("countrymen").
Caesar responded irritably: "I know!!"
While the production ended happily, we were left in no doubt that Orgon had learned
nothing; he was apt to change his opinion like a weather-vane. He was also a sadist, who tried to humiliate Tartuffe - even
though it was Orgon who had been responsible for the trouble in the first place. Perhaps the real danger to society's future
was not the hypocrite, but those gullible enough to be taken in by his words.