Khutjo Green and Craig Morris in Tartuffe, currently showing at the Baxter.
Hypocrites, we can see them everywhere.
Nowdays, mostly in the political sphere.
For that is where power now sits.
A president surrounded by shits.
They pronounce before symbols of integrity and courage and fortitude,
promising all we perceive to be good in this world; jobs, land, security, food.
Yet in the delivery of these hopes, they display an inordinate lassitude.
For although they said ‘we’
They really meant ‘me’.
An upside-down dyslexic lisp
accompanied by denials that are crisp.
Today’s elevating cross lies on its side, on a ballot paper,
but when Molière wrote Tartuffe, it was before an upright cross hypocrites did caper.
That crucifix is no longer imposed on us,
modernism has provided more intellectual suss.
Our little x’s are what now fuels the gravy train,
upon which hypocricy remains a common bane.
So although the church may have lost its power,
Sylvaine Strike reveals that Molière has not gone sour.
Enabling this play to arc across the centuries,
her deft control and sensitivities
brings the characters to the fore,
where in lesser hands they could be lost in a time of yore.
Eschewing notions of ‘reimagining’ which have been the death knell
for innumerable ‘updated’ Shakespeare versions which fell
upon their recontextualised notion,
performance is her simple potion.
An inspired choice to bring text to life through physicality
which she has all actors perform with alacrity.
In Molière’s text of wonderfully translated rhyming couplets
she does away with dressing her characters in doublets,
creating instead a play of marvelous movement that resembles an absurd ballet
that I’m sure would raise an audience to its feet in Calais.
A dance of gestures
performed in 1920s vestures.
She is a physical theatre acolyte,
a ploy she wields to give this play its bite.
Neil McCarthy as wealthy patriarch Orgon
is superbly cast as the simple-minded moron
who is fooled by the hyprocrite Tartuffe
of whose piety he demands no proof.
In this role Craig Morris is a delight,
seeing him enter made my night.
Bowing and scraping and swooping so low as to sweep the floor with his nose
beside ludicrously long-legged McCarthy they were a pair perfectly chose.
Morris’s malevolent simian physicality
and low centre of gravity,
foil to McCarthy’s precarious list,
itself providing visual cue to his downfall that could hardly be missed.
Not that Camilla Waldman as Orgon’s sister (originally the brother),
or radiant Khutjo Green as the mother
were any less impressive.
Vanessa Cooke as the belligerent servant was most expressive,
Vuyelwa Maluleke as Orgon’s daughter
was as beautiful to watch as she ought to.
Anele Situlweni as her suitor
was no less cuter
and as Orgon’s son, Adrian Alper wielded that umbrella
like a justifiably outraged fella.
William Harding’s cameo parts
showed he can reach beyond a writers’ arts.
In all each part was so wonderfully cast,
there was no sense this was a play from the past.
All this is acted upon a terrace flanked by billowing pink organza
the design reminscent of a meditteranean extravaganza.
This design was executed by Sasha Ehlers and Chen Naker
who used the fleur de lis in a way that was quite lekker.
Nakar’s costuming provides an air more Great Gatsby than Louis XIV
but had the set been placed in that era of courting
we would have been watching a period piece,
and Strike would’ve had to cast Emma Thompson, or her thespian niece.
It would be remiss not to congratulate Oliver Hauser on his lighting,
which provided crucial moments with the requisitely delicate brightening.
Strike, who actors respectfully say is exacting,
has a reputation for enacting
work that deserves congratulation
by means of a standing ovation.
Her discipline is wielded to weave among actors and crew the feeling
of having achieved beyond what they believed was their ceiling.
It is a touch so deftly definitive that without so much as a nod or even a glance,
her work can produce ruminations that some may look upon askance.
That hairshirts might still be a thing (my black pain)
and self-flagellation a common tool (my white stain)
Or is this too much a heresy
for one whose rhyming is so riddled with errancy?
Tartuffe is on at the Baxter Flipside theatre until April 29, thereafter it travels to that city that’s essentially a mine.
— Steve Kretzmann