May 1993

by Jean-Baptiste Moliare / Christopher Hampton, directed by John Marshall


Mme Pernelle, Orgon's mother - Mary Jones

Orgon, Elmire's husband - Peter King

Elmire - Maggie Butt

Damis, Orgon's son - Nick Bornet

Mariane, his daughter - Gabriella Graham

Valere, in love with Marian - Steve Hore

Cleante, Orgon's brother-in-law - Ben Grimsey

Tartuffe - Gordon Halliday

Dorine, Mariane's maid - Caroline Jones

Flipote, Mme Pernelle's maid - Lesley Tricker

M Loyal, a bailiff - Cass Thorne

An Officer - Brian Bowker

Production Team:

Director - John Marshall

Stage Manager - Lesley Tricker

Lighting - Keith Palmer & Barry Matthews

Costume - Isla Morgan

Designer - Katy Wragg

Music - Geoffrey Brace

Front of House - Nancy Harris & Carol Pettit

Publicity - Carole Eustace

Programme - Philip Jones


From Estuary News:

...Gordon Halliday held the play together...

As an amateur production, Tartuffe was a success. Clearly it was enjoyed by the cast and the audience; and those surely are the two primary objectives of a play by amateurs.

It had many virtues and many serious faults. Attention is drawn to the faults in a sympathetically constructive spirit. Most of them could easily have been avoided.

The first fault is that in notes on 'The Play' in the programme, it was not pointed out that Moliere ended the play with a ridiculous Royal Judgement and speech of fulsome flattery to Louis XIV in order to gain the King's licence, which had been refused for years because the play might offend the powerful church. Moliere and his contemporary audience were aware that this adjustment was a technical disaster. Members of the audience near to me were clearly puzzled by the irrelevant 'Paul Daniels' ending and should have been warned. The same notes attributed the popularity of Tartuffe to its 'subtle' comedy. The plot is about as subtle as that of a pantomime. In fact much of the popularity is due to the fact that like pantomimes, such as Aladdin and Cinderella, it can be adapted to all occasions, introduce any topical allusions and be as slap-stick, satirical or serious as the producer wishes. I have seen the play produced in France as burlesque, as a stylish pageant and as soft porn. At Topsham the producer aimed, justifiably, at a cheerful, superficial comedy. He was in many ways successful; but 'subtle', no!

The second criticism is one often made of costume plays by amateurs who cannot afford to hire good costumes and have to make do with usually inadequate wardrobes, accumulated from plays of many historical periods. In this production most of the costumes were tatty and of no particular period. Elmira (Maggie Butt) was encased in a metallic shell which concealed all erogenous lines and disqualified her for the erotic pas de deux with Tartuffe (Gordon Halliday). Historically, this costume was inappropriate to a period when emphasis in dress was given to bosoms and cleavages. The future Charles II, then in France, would have disapproved; and Gordon Halliday was not tempted to the softest of porns. Hard luck! The only appropriate and attractive costume was, ironically, worn by Dorine, maid to the depressingly under-dressed Marianne. The wigs, frankly, were awful and dehumanised the wearers. Far better, in future, to style and powder the natural hair. Please deal with all those wigs on November 5.

The third and final criticism - the area of the open stage was excessive and at times characters were too far apart from each for dialogue. In the opening ten minutes it was not clear who was speaking to whom; and much of the dialogue was lost in transit. What it was all about the audience had no idea, but gathered that an old lady with a white face disapproved of whatever was going on. Further, many characters stood on the perimeter with their backs to the audience and at times backs were all the audience could see. From time to time I had uninterrupted views of the three broadest backs in the cast. It would have been far better to shorten the space and group the players with their backs to the admirable painting by Katy Wragg of a fifteenth century tapestry, which would have then been a more prominent background to the action. The grouping would have been closer and the dialogue more natural and audible.

There were many good things. As Tartuffe, Gordon Halliday held the play together and gave it purpose and direction. His long limbs shot out like the tentacles of an octopus and they folded up and collapsed like the parts of that adaptable mollusc. The limbs were long enough to encircle Elmira, or parts of her if the costume had allowed. He ably presented a complex character, both sinister and comic. I thought of John Cleese as an understudy. Maggie Butt of the unfortunate costume was gracefully and wittily evasive and managed the table trick with alertness and acumen. Tartuffe's victim, or 'fall guy', Orgon (Peter King) presented that creepily gullible and obsessed moron with the dignity of a cabinet minister testing on privatising everything in sight. Most of the cast were as competent as their wigs allowed. I wish to stress the performance of Caroline Jones as Dorine, the maid. This part is traditionally given to an experienced comedy actress, and she coped impressively as the quick-witted, shrewd and courageous antidote to Orgon's arrogant and heartless imbecility. An attractive girl with the ability to express herself in movement, voice and facial expression! (And she had the one good female costume.)

Some of my criticisms are not of the production team but appreciations of the problems they had to overcome in presenting a lively, cheerful and endearingly naive entertainment. It was fun.

- Reviewed by: James Smeall