French comedy with a twist

Craig Morris (left) and Neil McCarthy in Tartuffe, directed by Sylvaine Strike. Durban performances are scheduled for 7pm on May 25 and 26 at the Courtyard Theatre on the Berea campus of the Durban University of Technology (DUT).  All pictures on this post by Dee-Ann Kaaijk.

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BY BILLY SUTER

TAKE one of South Africa’s most gifted theatre directors and an English translation of one of the most famous of French comedies, written in 1664, and what do you get?

You get a touring production of Tartuffe, directed by Sylvaine Strike and translated from Molière’s original play by Richard Wilbur.

The production has been scheduled for two public stagings in Durban – at 7pm on May 25 and 25. These performances at the Courtyard Theatre on the Berea campus of the Durban University of Technology (DUT) form part of a countrywide tour of the play that includes performances at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, at the Victoria Theatre on June 29 and 30, and July 1.

Performances were held in Soweto and Cape Town in April, and after Durban Tarfuffe, which has a 16 age restriction, will be staged at the Joburg Theatre, Gauteng, from May 31 to June 25.

Tickets for the Durban public performances of Tartuffe – which will also have performances in the day for school pupils – cost R80 (R60 concesisons). Booking is at Computicket outlets.

For bookings and more info about school performances contact Alliance Française at 031 312 9582.

“Exploring the way in which people are easily manipulated by symbols of power and honeyed words, Tartuffe is one of Molière’s masterpieces, an uneasy comedy with a potent message at its core,” says local publicist Illa Thompson in a press release.

The touring production by the Fortune Cookie Theatre Company, Thompson points out, follows its 2012  success with their production of Molière’s The Miser. That ran to wide critical acclaim and 70 sold-out performance,s and won four Naledi Awards – including Best Production and Best Director.

The cast for Tartuffe includes Craig Morris (Tartuffe/Madame Pernelle), Neil McCarthy (Orgon), Vanessa Cooke (Dorine), Khutjo Green (Elmire), Camilla Waldman (Cleante), Adrian Alper (Damis), Vuyelwa Maluleke (Mariane), Anele Situlweni (Valère) and William Harding (Monsieur Loyal/Officer).

Tartuffe is a weasely swindler, disguised as a paragon of piety, who manipulates his way into Orgon’s house to unleash his lecherous reign.

Music for the new local production has been composed by Dean Barrett, and choreography is by Owen Lonzar. Set design is by Sasha Ehlers and Chen Nakar, costume design by Sasha Ehlers, and lighting design by Oliver Hauser.

Controversial when it was first performed, the play was closed down, censored and Molière questioned by the religious authorities of the time, who saw in it an audacious critique of hypocrisy within the church.

Considering this, in a time when the artist, cartoonist or satirist’s freedom of expression is not guaranteed, Tartuffe is as relevant now as it was then.

The factions opposed to Molière’s work included part of the hierarchy of the French Roman Catholic Church and members of upper-class French society, reports Wikipedia.

Tartuffe’s popularity was cut short when the Archbishop of Paris issued an edict threatening excommunication for anyone who watched, performed in, or read the play, the site adds.

Molière attempted to assuage church officials by re-writing his play to seem more secular and less critical of religion, but the Church would not be budged. The revised version of the play was called L’Imposteur and had a main character titled Panulphe instead of Tartuffe, reports Wikipedia.

Even throughout Molière’s conflict with the Church, Louis XIV continued to support the playwright; it is possible that without the King’s support, Molière might have been excommunicated, states Wikipedia.

Public performances of the play were banned, but private performances for the French aristocracy were permitted.

Wikipedia explains that in 1669, after Molière’s detractors lost much of their influence, he was finally allowed to perform the final version of his play. However, due to all the controversy surrounding Tartuffe, Molière mostly refrained from writing such incisive plays as this one again.

“Promoting the work of Molière is even more relevant today as it remains utterly universal through the ongoing power of his word,” says director Strike.

“We are proud to showcase the genius of one of France’s most accomplished artists, whose masterpiece will be performed by a brilliant South African cast, within a context never seen before and which promises a lot of surprises.

“It is a play which, through the strength of its comedy and satire of society, also invites us to question and interrogate.”

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière (1622 –1673) was a French playwright and actor considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature.

Molière redefined French Theatre in the 17th century, becoming one of the greatest architects of social satire, and his impact can still be felt today.

The production has been made possible through the support of Total South Africa, BNP Paribas and RCS (a BNP Paribas group company) and Mazars in association with the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS).

The KwaZulu-Natal leg of the tour has been hosted and facilitated by the Alliance Française de Durban, presented by the Courtyard Theatre at DUT, and supported by the KwaZulu Natal Arts and Culture Trust, and Tsogo Sun Garden Court Marine Parade.


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