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Tartuffe - Wanneroo Repertory

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


It’s always nice to see classic stories on the stage, and Tartuffe at the Limelight Theatre is no different. Probably Molière’s best-known play, Tartuffe is a satire on gossip, wealth and religious hypocrisy. The play was surrounded by controversy when it premiered in the late 1600s, and the archbishop of Paris threatened anyone who read, watched or performed in the show with excommunication from the church.

Rather than set this play classically, Gwen Browning has chosen a more modern context, with a few modern references also scattered throughout the dialogue. Whilst the costuming and set were effective at indicating the change of setting, the modifications to the text itself felt shoehorned in at times and thus distracting. This was probably partially to do with the script being constructed entirely of Alexandrine rhyming couplets, and these insertions somewhat broke up the meter of the dialogue itself.

The show has some lovely performances from some of the key characters. Orgon, portrayed by Andrew Govey, gave some lovely strength and yet naivete for the character that drives a lot of the dramatic action of the show. Elinor King had a lot of fun playing up the ‘sexy’ side of Elmire, although it would have been nice to feel a bit more of the ‘motherly’ instinct towards Ffion Bishop’s Mariane. Gordon Park hits the right balance of disgusting, manipulative and falsely pious, but also believably fooled by Elmire later in the show.

There were moments when some of the projection levels between the actors were mismatched. Whilst some characters can be more soft-spoken, it does make it hard for an audience to tune in when the volume changes drastically between characters. This was particularly notable between the siblings, where Jake Libbis’ projection and energy as Damis sometimes swamped Ffion Bishop’s Mariane. The main issue though was that the characters, in general, didn’t have any chemistry. The characters were well-defined, but they didn't feel like they were relating to each other. In a show that relies on the push and pull of familial duties against devotion to someone outside the family, we missed some of the light and shade in those relationships. This is partially down to the ‘unrealness’ of the rhyming couplets, as well as some of the staging, and may also be something that the actors settle into a little more as the run goes on.

There were some effective uses of lighting scattered throughout the show - the beginning of Act 2 and the “seduction” scenes being of particular note. It would have been nice to see some of this continue through other areas of the show, especially to give the audience the sense of time passing, as there are no real beginnings and ends of scenes. Because the entire show is traditionally done with no change of scenery, as it was here, there were some issues with where some of the set placement. The table that is key to a lovely scene in Act 2 was placed so far upstage left that it felt less powerful because the actors were only able to use the front side, rather than having a more rambunctious game of cat-and-mouse around the entire table. There was not a lot of set in the powerful centre stage area, which also made for a lot of scenes that felt very spread out in an unnatural way. The backdrop painting and general box-set structure, however, was one of the best on a community theatre stage thus far this year.

All in all, the show is a fun romp. It’s got the flavour of the classic story, and some lovely performances from the actors. It’s a really good example of where modernisation can work, and how some stories are universal regardless of time period.

Elinore King (Elmire), Lorraine Jones (Flipote), Mutiara Libbis (Dorine), Karen Tropiano (Madame Pernelle), Jake Libbis (Damis) and Ffion Bishop (Mariane).

Reviewer Note: Kate has previously performed at Wanneroo Repertory in 2011. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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