I said I would start posting some of my pre-blog writings. For two reasons. My filing system on this lap-top has a smashed-to-bits September 11 look to it, when it should possess more of a 4711 fragrance. So while I dig through the rubble and try to tidy up a bit I will put stuff up as I find it. This has also been spurred on (have I said this already?) by the news that the National Library of Australia is creating a digital archives unit – and my website has been invited for inclusion. They will look after my scribbles no matter how many Trogan Horses lead my readers away or hackers do whotever it is they do - even into the years when I am long gone. This is a great boost to my enthusiasm and self belief at exactly a time when I needed it. Here I was promising to have another go and get my website up and running – and more diverse if never entirely too far away from the world of theatre. But was my heart beating in time with my mind? Who knows where this may lead, but I hope in the least to more and better, and more regular posts.
I did stumble somewhere recently into Paul McGillick’s review of this Tartuffe. McGillick is informed with a connoisseur’s mind that I hugely respect. He hated the production. So don’t rely on me. I do have a sneaking suspicion, however, that this was the review I chose to specifically welcome Kosky to Sydney. And that is was possibly the beginning of an argument (that I think peaked last year) over how we treat ‘the classics’.
Hilarious, anarchic Tartuffe proves Kosky is neither ‘enfant’ nor ‘terrible’
Author: By JAMES WAITES
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Tartuffe, Drama Theatre, May 15
There are two words which definitely do not apply to this Barrie Kosky production of Tartuffe and they are “enfant” or “terrible”. This, in fact, is one of the classiest, cleverest, funniest, most visually stylish productions to ever appear on the Drama Theatre stage.
Utterly Australian in its anarchic comic demeanour, it also happens to be world class.
Sydneysiders have been obliged to absorb Kosky’s reputation from a distance via the director’s provocative comments to the media, reports from interstate, and through a sprinkling of stage works originating so far from our familiar cultural base that an objective assessment of Kosky’s core talent has, until now, been quite impossible.
We might imagine a 17th-century Moliere classic to be equally foreign but, in Kosky’s hands, Tartuffe is virtually a new Australian play.
Colour is everywhere in Peter Corrigan’s set. The gaudy and hypnotic rhythms of a Bridget Riley abstract painting throw us off balance and serve as a tantalising backdrop to what could well be the dysfunctional Sylvania Waters household on Christmas Day.
Christmas in May, carols included – why not? The gap between the play’s European origins and Kosky’s new-world interpretation could not be underlined more boldly.
Christopher Hampton’s excellently springy blank-verse translation has been touched up with marvellous local references. But the biggest surprise comes in an inserted coup-de-theatre in the closing scene, where Kosky radically reworks the means through which Moliere achieves comic resolution to the plot. Actor Russell Cheek’s role in this adventure is magnificent.
Tartuffe (Jacek Koman) is a hypocrite and shyster who, through his religious posturing, fools Orgon (Paul Blackwell) into handing over just about all he owns in the world while his family looks on horrified.
The production is superbly cast and, without exception, the performances are stunning.
Melita Jurisic as Elmire, Orgon’s wife, appears as if from the social pages of a 1960s’ Women’s Weekly. David Wenham solves the problem of Cleante’s inordinate moralising (the only way Moliere could have ever got his satire past the censors) by playing the character up as a nagging effeminate.
Mitchell Butel as Orgon’s son, Damis, is a junkie and Judi Farr’s grandma, Madame Pernelle, struts the stage in a track suit and upswept blue hair.
Jacek Koman’s Tartuffe is awesome: disgustingly daggy, tripping the stage in socks and thongs, this Tartuffe inflates into a frightening monster once his game has been revealed.
Discussing his acclaimed 1910 production of Moliere’s Don Juan, Meyerhold noted that a director did not have to stage a classic exactly as it had been in its own time, but rather as a free composition in the spirit of the theatre in which it was originally staged.
Against the more formal traditions of the day, Moliere eliminated footlights and, to best effect his comic ambitions, pushed his actors as far to the front of the stage as possible. This is exactly what Kosky does here: this Tartuffe is in-your-face comedy in a boldly heightened style that filters the raw crudeness of Australian humour through Kosky and Corrigan’s erudition and sophisticated tastes.
The production is fresh, immediate and hilarious; all the while quite dangerously flinging around a poisonous sting in its tail
PS: I got a message from a reader after I posted this piece asking me (quite reasonably) for a little more about the closing ‘coup de theatre’ – this many years later it was hardly going to be a ‘spoiler”. It was too many years ago for me to remember exactly, so I contacted one of the two people in the show I was still in easy contact with. Namely Russell Cheek of the Castanet Club fame. It turns out HE was the fabulous ending. Here below are his jottings via Facebnook- which I am not going to fiddle with. I think his word sketch stands on its own two feet as a primary document. Anything from me would serve as interference. Russell also had a photo – in colour – which gives you a hint of just how vivid and spalshy it was. I have re-dated this piece to fit with the revisions.
Le Roi Soleil…. Deus ex Machina… Coup de Theatre….
Anyway, I still have your SMH Tartuffe review….!
ANd feck – we still should have your Castanet Club one around somewhere…. from the Nat Times…
I was the coup de théatre because I came out of nowhere – literally, the ceiling.
(Playing “The Officer” – touched by the genius of Barry, his designer, and a soupçon of my own….!)
After a whole show in a super rich modern glass-cement home – which I always imagined somewhere on the cliffs of Port Wilunga, SA, suddenly, I am piped in from 18th Century France, reciting all the French in the declamatory style, (which I only knew coz I lived such a time in Paris theatre-milieu…!) as if I am in a Racine play…!
Then I just stop. I stop time. The show. (such FUN!) Audience is beautifully dumbfounded… what is happening? Has the show foundered?
I have to pretend to orient myself – where the fuck am I?
Oh – no-one here understands me. OK – I’ll speak Franglais, and insult the shit out of these backward Australians in true European cultural imperialist form….