first night


Kate Wilkinson finds timeless value in Moliere's classic comedy.
Stepping into Castle’s grandiose Great Hall is always a thrill, especially for a hill-college resident like me. However, this time the venue provided the apt setting for Moliere’s 17th Century comedy, the residence of an aristocratic French family. The production made best use of the space, using the corridor behind the hall and the upper balcony, giving the effect that these characters were currently residing here. In this way, I felt like I was walking in on a family drama rather than going to the theatre.
Having said this, don’t expect anything like realism from this play. Director Sam Kingston-Jones has put together an exuberantly melodramatic production, drawing out the humour to the highest degree. The physicality was impressive; expect a lot of slapping, fake blood, people crawling on the floor and cake in multiple faces. In the opening scene, brilliant use of music and dance is made as the servants ceremoniously prepare the room with cheesy smiles and credit must be given to choreographer Monika Kawai. This set the tone of the play perfectly, instilling an air of pomp and tongue-in-cheek humour and promised a fun-filled evening to come.
The overall standard of acting was extremely high with large and smaller parts alike performed with aplomb. Sophie McQuillan gave a stand-out performance as spirited housemaid Dorine and impressed with a wonderfully expressive face. This, her debut appearance on the Durham theatre scene, indicates that we can expect much from her in the future. I also enjoyed James Hyde’s camp and energetic take on Orgon, the deluded father. He provided much cause for derision and yet the audience couldn’t help but grow a fondness for his helpless ways. Elissa Churchill put in a confident performance as the beautiful wife Elmire and Nat Goodwin created the naïve innocence of Mariane with her wide, teary, self-pitying eyes. As for the eponymous antagonist himself, Adam Phillips’ Tartuffe was a force to be reckoned with. At once seductive and repulsive, Phillips played the manipulative hypocrite with controlled energy. The variety to his performance was interesting to watch; he managed to transform from calculating Machiavellian figure to a sex-crazed madman with effortless ease. At times of heightened emotion, diction was sometimes sacrificed, making his words hard to make out, although the meaning was more-or-less clear due to tone of voice.
Mention must be given to the incredible costumes. The white, curly, 17th Century wigs, white face paint and flamboyant outfits gave the production a strong sense of professionalism and evoked the era beautifully. The same can be said of the set. Admittedly, the backdrop of the Great Hall left little to the imagination, however the elegantly laid table provided an invaluable prop for many humorous moments including as an inefficient hiding place and as a surface used by Tartuffe to pin down the reluctant Elmire.         
The play required copious amounts of energy from all involved with scenes almost always ending in chaotic shouting and exaggerated emotion. However, one of my favourite scenes was at the beginning of the second act and created hilarity silently. The family walked in religious procession onto the scene in mock solemnity and proceeded to receive Holy Communion from the sinister minister Tartuffe. In this case, subtle actions and facial expressions created the laughter and the cast proved their versatility.  However, though the energy was sustained well throughout, the final few lines of the play fell a little flat, creating a rather abrupt ending. 
A tale of manipulation, intrigue and deception, Castle Theatre Company has proved that Tartuffe is a play that can delight audiences today. Underneath the melodrama and humour, darker themes emerge such as the powerless position of 17th Century women and the dangers of religious hypocrisy. This balance between light and dark made for an engaging evening and had me, along with the entire audience, laughing throughout.
Kate Wilkinson

17 November 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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