I went to see Tartuffe last night, and while it was generally speaking alright, it was also All Wrong. Or, to put it another way, the production was finely acted, with an excellent set design, decent music and sound effects, and clever casting, and I came away from the whole thing sniffing and harrumphing fit to burst. Of course, with me, you have to remember that I like arguing and criticising so much that if I ever see the Mona Lisa in France, I'll probably end up talking about the grain of dust on her nose that ruins the whole effect. Still...
Like most modern adaptations of plays by the great dramatists (Moliere shares this position with Shakespeare), it was set in an entirely different period and place to the one which Moliere himself would have envisaged for his play (ie, the actual period and place he was writing in - seventeenth century France). Basically, I'm an outrageous pedant, so this is just the sort of thing that gets stuck in my craw (whatever a craw is). Why can't we ever have a Shakespearean play set in Shakespearean times? I'd probably go to the lengths of criticising Shakespeare himself for not being Shakespearean enough in a production he puts on of his own plays. You might argue with this, saying that Shakespeare himself probably didn't have any set rules for costumes and sets in his plays, but really! I ask you! He certainly had no excuse for doing so.
So, anyway. Tartuffe was set in modern-day Melbourne, in a large expensive Toorak house, with the roles being played variously as a decrepit old Melbourne stockbroker, a GPS school boy, a Jewish-Russian maid, and a falsely-pious Hillsong-style conman (that's Tartuffe.) Like most period dramas plucked out of their own period and set in another, there were a lot of odd or incongruous lines - so you have dumb private schoolboys referring to themselves as, 'the anointed one', modern-day Australian characters making 'ardent' prayers, and frequent vows to 'the King' (not 'The Premier' or 'The Prime Minister' or even 'The Queen'!) This, alongside frequent references to the Gaza Strip and Facebook. (A pretty basic problem in re-setting the play in modern Australia, obviously, is that these jarring, contradictory period references will immediately leap out at their audience in a way that they wouldn't have done if the play was set, oh, maybe a decade ago.)
In my lust for authentically historical and historically authentic dramas, I got thinking afterwards about what the perfect staging of a Moliere play would look like. I decided that not only would such a production be set in the time that Moliere wrote, it would be more realistic than the reality experienced by Moliere himself. Stay with me here: one imagines that the original play would have been accompanied by music on the viols by Lully. Well, not only would this production have viols, but it would be played by the vilest viol players ever to have set foot on this earth - I mean, real freaking ugly ones. The original production would probably have had wigs: well, not only would this production have wigs, but it would have the biggest, shapeliest wigs in all of creation. Maybe with three wigs for each character, (each carved into the shape of some authentic 17th-century French scene, like peasants working joyously in the fields, or a popular Pope, or perhaps a minor war against the English dogs.)
To get the audience into the general feel of authentic 17th-century realism, a chamber pot would be emptied over each of their heads at the start of the production. (The contents would, of course, have been evacuated by a French nobleman from the 1600s, or, if this is not possible, lovingly crafted for the production by a modern-day artisan specialising in the craft of period micturation and evacuation.) And of course, all members of the audience would be lovingly selected throughout an audition process, and prepared for the production by a trial period of famine and/or black plague. (On the other hand, they would be equipped with bricks and rotten apples before the beginning of the show, just to even things up.)
The Palace of Versailles would of course be shipped to Australia for the production. Though I wouldn't be fussy about it; the French could of course keep some of it. As long as I ended up with a hall and a few pools, I'd be happy. All the characters would of course travel about the stage on warhorses, and of course bathe every day in an authentic 17th-century French bath of rose-water, wine, and honey, after which they would roll themselves in a gigantic vat of pomade (placed in the centre of the stage.) And of course, there would be no skimping on the final scene, where Tartuffe is dragged down into hell by the votaries and potentates of Satan. Beelzebub, or, at the very least, Mephistopheles would be recruited into the cast for this role, and instructed on pain of - well, on pain of life to furnish the scene with more than enough sulfur and brimstone.
I suppose you might object that the demons would only work for the price of one soul, and you could be right (though I do think we could get the unions to strike up an agreeable contract with them). But I told you it was a fantasy, didn't I? Of course, failing Lully as a composer, a palace for the set, and the absence of wigs and pomade, the least I reckon the producers could do is not resort to cheap jokes about Facebook, or karaoke song contests.
Anyway - I like where I'm going with this, so I'm off now to petition the Australian Council of the Arts to lend me the billion dollars or so to get this whole thing in the initial stages of production. Huzzah!
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