The Tartuffe *****

C Soco, 5 – 31 August 2009

Reviewed for The List (issue 636)

Belt Up’s immersive Red Room programme was among the most exciting events at last year’s Fringe. Even sharing a line-up with six other highly praised productions, The Tartuffe managed to stand out. The 2009 version is even better.

The great (and immodest) French actor Orgon Poquelin and his company have left behind the plush decadence of the Red Room for a squat in a dilapidated wing of C Soco. The audience joins them, seated on a motley assortment of mattresses, bedsteads and sofas. Here, the players – actors playing actors playing characters, like meta-theatrical Russian dolls – perform the story of Orgon’s humiliation at the hands of the conman Tartuffe. Or rather, they skip, stutter and scrape through the story, interrupted at every turn by missed cues, prima donna mime artists and Orgon’s titanic ego.

The production – and the production within the production – runs on glorious, unfettered anarchy. Orgon’s company are as much at war with one another as the family they’re meant to be playing, indulging in playground one-upmanship that climaxes in the most elaborate postmodern mime battle royale ever seen on stage. Gratuitous violence, foul language and near-pornographic filth abound. Mime, straight acting, kabuki and street performance are brought out, dusted off, tried on, sent up and discarded again. Crimes against the fourth wall include offstage players commentating from the audience and constant pop culture references to everything from the Fringe to American Beauty via The Lion King and The Matrix.

But most impressive of all, the audience at The Tartuffe appears willing – even eager – to take part, practically leaping off their sofas to join the cast, beaming all over their faces. Crossing the fourth wall into the audience is one thing. Getting the audience to volunteer to cross back? Now that’s unprecedented.

Written by James Wilkes after Moliere

Crew includes Orgon Poquelin (director)

Cast includes Orgon Poquelin (himself)

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