Bilingual play makes history in London
LONDON, June 20, (Agencies): For the first time in the history of London’s West End theatre district, a play is being staged in English and French — Moliere’s classic “Tartuffe”, transposed into Donald Trump’s United States.
The comedy at the Theatre Royal Haymarket stars two television regulars from either side of the Channel — Paul Anderson in the title role as a US evangelist, and Audrey Fleurot as Elmire.
Anderson is known for his role as Arthur in “Peaky Blinders”, a crime drama series about a 1920s gang in Birmingham, while flamboyant redhead Audrey Fleurot played lawyer Josephine Karlsson in the Paris police and legal drama “Spiral”.
In the modern take on the 1660s play, Orgon, portrayed by Sebastian Roche, is a French media tycoon in Los Angeles, who falls under the spell of radical evangelist Tartuffe.
Tartuffe has hoodwinked Orgon so comprehensively that he looks set to steal his fortune, drive away his son, seduce his wife Elmire and marry his daughter.
The play is going down well with a young and enthusiastic audience calling for encores.
However, newspaper critics have not been so keen.
The Times said “Merde, what a mess”, calling it a “pretentious shambles” and “excruciating”, while The Daily Telegraph said it was “frankly maladroit” and “induces tears of frustration”.
Is it provocative to stage a bilingual play in Britain as it heads for the EU exit door?
“‘Tartuffe’ has always been a scandalous play, right from its origins when it was banned, and the provocation inherent in the play continues,” director Gerald Garutti told AFP.
“It’s a play which divides opinions, between those who favour a form of openness, and those who tend more towards withdrawal, autonomy, insularity and something more closed. And clearly politics and ideology have a stake in it,” he said, in reference to Brexit.
Garutti prefers to go by the acclaim from the stalls, where a Netflix-happy generation is able to juggle with the languages and the surtitles, which crop up in several places around the stage.
And in Christopher Hampton’s adaptation, a final surprise twist anchors the play in the realities of the modern-day United States under President Trump.
“I wanted to keep as much as possible of the original text and in thinking of the idea of a religious guru, I naturally thought of California,” Hampton told AFP.
“From that came the idea of an American Tartuffe with whom all the members of the family have to speak in English.”
Besides Trump, “the Me Too movement was a strong part of my thinking.
“Like all the great plays, ‘Tartuffe’ remains relevant in a slightly different way with the passage of time.”
Each era throws up its share of virtue-spouting hypocrites who cannot practice what they preach, whatever it is they are preaching.
Especially when desire, in the form of Fleurot dressed in a siren’s robes, enters the mix, in a spicy seduction scene with the falsely puritanical evangelist Tartuffe.
“At the start of rehearsals, the French team said ‘we don’t touch Moliere!’. But in the end, it’s interesting to bring things up to date, so long as we don’t distort the play,” Fleurot told AFP.
Working with two languages was also a challenge.
Roche said: “It’s an interesting gymnastic switch between French and English, it’s a very different rhythm. There is also a different sound.”
To play Tartuffe, Anderson wears a white linen tunic which covers up his tattoos.
“The risk element is what I liked about it, not doing something the people would expect me to do,” he said.
The inspiration for his interpretation came partly from his own imagination but also from dark manipulators such as the Russian monk Rasputin and the Californian serial killer Charles Manson.
“There is a slight Charles Manson in him, in the charming side, in the charismatic side,” said Anderson.
“He was very charismatic, regardless of being a monster.”
The play runs until July 28, with tickets ranging from £15 to £90 ($20 to $118; 17 to 102 euros).
LOS ANGELES: Kenya Barris and Pharrell Williams will collaborate on a stage musical about Juneteenth, the African-American holiday honoring the date that US Army ships forced Texas landowners to free the last of their slaves. It is viewed as the last day of slavery in the United States.
It’s a familiar subject for Barris. The Season 4 premiere of his hit ABC series “Black-ish” had a musical episode that focused on an 1865 version of the Johnsons, the family at the center of the sitcom. Barris will write the libretto with Peter Saji, his “Black-ish” colleague.
Williams is a 10-time Grammy winner, whose songs include “Happy” and “Freedom.” He will compose the music and lyrics, and produce under his company I Am Other with partner Mimi Valdes. Saji will also produce the show.
The collaborators didn’t share many plot details, but did reveal that it will focus on two different African American families, one story will unfold in the present, while the other will be set during the Civil War. The show hopes to contribute to a larger push to make Juneteenth a national, or even international, holiday, Barris said in a statement, adding that seeing that happen was in his “life goals column.”
LOS ANGELES: The thing about doing a play is: You gotta really like it. That’s actor BD Wong’s philosophy, anyway.
“You need to enjoy it more in a play than a television show or in a film, I think,” Wong said in the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “Because you have to do it every night repeatedly, and you want to be 100% behind it.”
The play he’s currently 100% behind is “The Great Leap,” the new Off Broadway play by Lauren Yee. The production, now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company (where recent Tony champ “The Band’s Visit” originated), marks Wong’s first New York stage stint since “Pacific Overtures” in 2004.
But despite a busy career in film and TV — including juicy, ongoing roles in “Mr. Robot” and “Gotham” and a part in the upcoming tentpole “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” — the actor, who won a Tony for his Broadway breakout in “M. Butterfly,” always makes a point of returning to the stage.
“Riding the wave of being in a great play, through the audience’s response to it — there’s no comparison to any of the other kind of work that I’ve been able to do,” he said.
On Stagecraft, Wong addressed some of his screen work, revealing how much he knows — or doesn’t know — about what’s next for him on “Mr. Robot” and “Gotham,” and giving the new “Jurassic World” a thumbs-up.
He also noted some similarities between a lot of the roles he ends up playing on screen. “I seem to have this mad scientist kind of vibe that people think I’m really good at,” he observed. “I think they’re really, really interesting. They’re really tasty.”