Tag Archives: Ayesha Antoine

Moliere, mo’ problems

TARTUFFE

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 6th November, 2013

 

We are accustomed to seeing productions of Shakespeare in modern-day (or other) dress so why then is Moliere so hard to get right?  I suppose some of the problems come from watching the plays in translation.  In this new production of Tartuffe, Chris Campbell goes for a more-or-less translation, with English idioms and vernacular thrown in.  What you are left with is a manner of speaking that is non-naturalistic but is not verse either.  It hovers somewhere in-between the two and that is the trouble with this production in a nutshell.

There is a lack of consistency in the performance style.  Some of the cast revel in the chance to perform in a heightened, comedic manner, and when these moments are developed unfettered, they are a joy. Paul Hunter’s Orgon, head of the house, warms up – by the second half he is unstoppable.  He is supported by Sian Brooke as his canny wife Elmire and Calum Finlay as his daughter’s betrothed Valere.  These three get the unreality right.  Others are not up to speed.  Ayesha Antoine is spirited as cheeky maid Dorine (although her costume baffles with its incongruity) but I would have liked her to be a little less well-spoken.  There are Birmingham twangs bubbling under the surface throughout – why not go the whole hog and have the maid come from Dudley?  Dinita Gohil displays some neat comic reactions as Orgon’s daughter Mariane (and perhaps the production hints at the ongoing issue of forced marriages) and Ashley Kumar gives some commanding histrionics as the righteous Damis.   There is an absolutely bonkers turn from Janice Connolly as Mrs Pernelle who keeps a dog in a basket but barks herself – she opens the show and should set the tone.  Sadly, the show doesn’t match or maintain her energy and commitment.

There is quite a build-up and delay before Tartuffe himself appears.  Moliere knew what he was doing.  He wants the audience to be in no doubt that this is a cozener, a Machiavel, and an arch-manipulator.  Mark Williams’s interpretation is therefore a surprise.  His Tartuffe is played straight.  Soft-spoken and self-effacing, there are no knowing asides.  It’s an interesting approach but at odds with the rest of the production.  Above all, it’s not particularly funny.  We need to see Tartuffe’s cogs working.  We need to revel in his manipulations of these ninnies and we need to rejoice in his eventual downfall.  Williams plays it all low-key and on an even keel.  It’s a real disappointment.  We get a vacuum at the heart of the play rather than a forceful, artful dodgy dealer.  I didn’t like his costume either, a kind of smock and Jesus boots affair.  Perhaps something along the lines of a televangelist would have signalled his hypocrisy better.

Roxana Silbert directs, supplying some funny comic business but doesn’t give us enough fizz and fireworks to keep the balloon in the air.  The tone of the piece is too patchy and uneven.  We cannot buy into this heightened world because we only witness it piecemeal.  The characters’ preoccupations with piety (as opposed to contemporary issues of pie-eating) seem removed from us.  Period costume would have added distance but somehow have brought us into their world – at least the picture would have been a unified one.  Also, the violent abuse of the maid, however slapstick and cartoony, doesn’t sit well in this partially contemporary, partially timeless realm, with its mickey-taking of Wolverhampton and references to parking costs near the theatre.  Ideas, amusing in isolation, jar with each other in juxtaposition, like trying to piece together a picture from at least two different jigsaw puzzles.

Liz Ashcroft’s set is a thing of beauty, representing the interior and the exterior of Orgon’s house, with French furniture and Fragonard paintings.  Trouble is it is indicative of the problem with the production.  It is neither one thing nor another.

What should be a dazzling display is a damp squib.  What should be a box of delights turns out to be a mixed bag.

Image

On reflection, we need to see more of the man in the mirror. Mark Williams in a publicity shot for TARTUFFE.

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Christmas Crackers

ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 16th October, 2012


Three Christmas Eves, three kitchens, and three couples. Ayckbourn’s play from the 1970s seems deceptively straightforward. Each of the acts is an exercise in comedy of some kind: comedy of manners, black comedy, slapstick and the traditional bringing authority figures into ridicule… to name but a few. By the end of the evening, the play has charted the rise of petit bourgeois Sidney, the upwardly mobile shopkeeper and small businessman. Along the way he becomes a monster and a boor, but the others, the bank manager with whom he invests, and the disgraced architect desperate for work, have to dance to his tune – or rather freeze when he stops the music. Within the couples, fortunes rise and fall: Hopcroft’s cleaning-obsessed wife becomes his equal; suicidal Eva reins in her philandering husband and takes charge of his business affairs ; and Marion, the bank manager’s wife sinks from snobby disdain to rampant alcoholism.

Yes, there is darkness permeating their lives but for the audience it is a treat to sit back and watch as this finely tuned clockwork reveals its delights. As Sidney, Ben Porter stands out, at first neurotic and slimy, he gains confidence as his empire grows. Laura Doddington is a hoot as downtrodden Jane who is able to enjoy herself when Sidney gains other victims to bully. Ayesha Antoine’s Eva gives us contrasts: the strung out on antidepressants woman at the start could not be more different to the hardened and focussed wife at the end. And yet it is in the second act, in which she doesn’t say a word, that she really shines as each mute attempt to top herself with whatever’s handy in her kitchen, is hilariously and unwittingly thwarted by her unwelcome guests. Richard Stacey plays her husband Geoff, perhaps the least exaggerated character of the bunch and the architect of his own downfall. Bill Champion brings a note of pathos to befuddled bank manager Ronald, still puzzling over why his first wife left him, and Sarah Parks’s Marion descends into drunkenness with a startlingly well-observed performance.

I’ve seen this play several times but never before in a production directed by Alan Ayckbourn himself. Here the class distinctions seem sharper, the darkness casts a longer shadow. When first produced, the play must have seemed prescient about the rise of the Thatcherite, the businessman over the professional and the powerful. Now it seems to hint that the banks are hopeless and we must all kowtow to private enterprise – the power is in Hopcroft’s greedy hands and he is a brute without taste, grace or concern for public welfare.