The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



NEWS (Etcetera)



Los Angeles






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

The man is a censorious fraud
And yet he's treated like a lord!
He's seized control, that's what he's done -
No one can have an ounce of fun
Do anything but sleep and eat
Unless Tartuffe has 'deemed it meet.'

Name just one thing he hasn't banned,
Condemned as sinful, out of hand -
We have some harmless pleasures planned
And straight off he prohibits it,
The pious, pompous, puffed up git!

Martin Clunes as Tartuffe (Photo: Mike Smallcombe)
The star of the National Theatre's production of Molière's satirical comedy Tartuffe is not as expected. It is not the admirable Martin Clunes better known as Gary, the lager swilling layabout of BBC TV's Men Behaving Badly but son of playwright Robert Bolt, Ranjit Bolt's marvellous rhyming couplets. There are those of course who will view this loose and accessible translation as the dumbing down of Molière. Speaking as one who had to study Moliére in agony, never onstage, but from the seventeenth century French text and some scratchy, ancient gramophone records (pre-vinyl), Bolt's script is a joyous flight from that tedious task.

Set in the times of Le Roi Soleil, Louis Quatorze, Tartuffe is the tale of a man who ingratiates himself into a rich family by appearing saintly. Orgon (David Threlfall) is on the point of marrying off his daughter Mariane (Melanie Clarke Pullen) to this sanctimonious fake and giving away his house and fortune when Tartuffe (Martin Clunes) is exposed in attempting to seduce Orgon's own wife, Elmire (Clare Holman). Too late! Orgon finds he has signed away his fortune. The solution calls for a royal intervention.

The National's production of Tartuffe rattles along as a fun loving vehicle, a kind of up market pantomime, lavishly set and costumed, well over the top as Orgon's foolish nature is exposed. The director, Lindsay Posner is rather static in his direction and too respectful of the verse as his characters too often wait politely for each to finish, even though Bolt has given the ending of couplets to a different character. The costumes are gorgeous as only seventeenth century courtiers in wigs and frills and high heels can be, and that's just the men! In one bedroom scene, a character takes a wrong door to reveal floor to ceiling shelves of pretty satin shoes in sugared almond colours. The set too is an overblown star, an enormous ceiling and outer walls mural, with paintings of chubby cherubs, and seventeenth century grandees with a pieta in the centre of the ceiling. Bon mots, such as "Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue", are ready waiting in neon tubing on the back walls for their lit moment. The finale, the illuminated descent of the French King is "de trop" and blinding as only the Sun King can be.

Clunes' arrival is built up as we hear about Tartuffe for two whole acts before he enters with the line "My hair shirt needs wringing out". He looks almost unsavoury, barefoot, well fed with a pot belly under his priest like robe, greasy long fair hair through which the famous red Clunes' ears protrude and a little goatee of a beard. The thing about Martin Clunes is that he seems to be enjoying the play as much as we are. In one scene he eats a meal with sensual greed, we are in stitches. His attempted seduction of Elmire is both cringe making and blisteringly funny. Dorine (Debra Gillett) gives an outstanding performance as the feisty maid. Her scenes with Tartuffe are some of the best. He says her decolletage offends him,
Your bosom's well nigh bare
It wounds the soul, it's Satan's snare,
Engendering sinful thoughts, so, please,
Cover your improprieties!
Dorine lets him know she finds him repulsive both in deed and body. She too gives sensible advice to the family on Mariane's proposed marriage to Tartuffe, "Some husbands are a natural bar to constancy". David Threlfall is Clunes' straightman and patsy but Clare Holman, like a young Judy Dench, shows her comic range. One could not ask for better performances from the ensemble cast, Julian Wadham's reliable Cléante whose extravagant dress sense belies his common sense, Sam Troughton's puppy like Valère, the earnest suitor for the daughter's hand and Tim Goddman-Hill's understandably aggrieved, ousted heir Damis.

The National's Tartuffe will amuse all except maybe serious French scholars and the pathologically depressed. If I could compose a musical, I'd beg Ranjit Bolt to write the lyrics.
Written by Molière
Translation by Ranjit Bolt
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Starring: Martin Clunes, David Threlfall, Clare Holman
With: Margaret Tyzack, Tom Goodman-Hill, Melanie Clark Pullen, Julian Wadham, Debra Gillett, Marianne Morley, Sam Troughton, Nicholas Day, Martin Chamberlain, Andrew McDonald, Richard Hollis, Scott Frazer, Nick SAmpson, Sarah Kay, Suzanne Heathcote, Deborah Winckles
Design: Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting Design: Wolfgang Goebbel
Sound design: Christopher Shutt
Director of Movement: Jane Gibson
Music: Gary Yershon
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 20th April 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th March 2002 performance at the Lyttelton, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1
Metaphors Dictionary Cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive

©Copyright 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from>