Review by Greta Doell
Whether you’re a fan of the classic theatre of Molière, or just looking for some uplifting viewing to get you away from the seriousness of the world, Tartuffe at MUST (Monash Uni Student Theatre) is the lively evening at the theatre you need.
Right off the bat, the theatre space was a scene of decadence and fun. Colourful cocktail glasses, flowers and graffiti left by fluoro highlighters painted the space. It was a sanctuary of indulgence and naughtiness. Phallic cartoons, tags and cool S’s drawn onto the set hinted at the modern humour and references that would reinvigorate this staging of Molière’s famous work.
For those who don’t know the play, it tells the story of a rich family that is infiltrated by a master manipulator Tartuffe - who preys on the affection and generosity of the father of the family, Orgon. Blinded by infatuation, Orgon promises more and more to Tartuffe, resulting in his family’s subsequent disgust and quest to be rid of the scoundrel before his greed drives them all into poverty.
Directed by Celeste Cody, the production struck an amazing balance between utilising the material written in the 1600s and conventions of Commedia Dell’arte to contribute its own contemporary outlook to the story. According to the program, this is the result of a rehearsal process that involved devising and collaboration between the whole creative team and cast. The joy of this production is how obvious it is that the students were given creative trust and freedom by Cody to weigh in on adaptations to the script.
It was fantastic to see this true collaboration on display- students seeming to have the time of their lives as they embraced the extreme exaggeration and slapstick of Commedia, literally throwing themselves around the space and dancing their hearts out hilarious in dance numbers. Utilising provocative dance moves and group physical comedy, these sequences were entertaining displays of the family's hedonism that seemed to be in the spirit of homage, since the controversial nature of Moliere’s writing is what put him in history books. And they really didn’t shy away from the risqué. I won’t spoil it - but let’s just say a scene involving a piece of cake will have you in stitches.
The fun was infectious to the audience as other conventions of Commedia like melodrama and exaggerated gestures were used to recreate meme and pop culture iconography that translated well comedically. Even cleaning breaks to tidy the set after the cocktail-cup throwing, furniture-moving hijinx of the show were turned into musical interludes through which the whole ensemble shone.
As things heated up and Tartuffe’s wicked ways got more out of control, the cast utilised character tropes of Commedia to create some really goofy moments. Whilst a few F bombs for the sake of outrage and shock were overused at times, the script was an effecive hybrid the original text and modern quips. A particular highlight was cast hurling modern insults at Tartuffe, ‘slut’ being a crowd pleaser.
The cast were also able to have some fun with the sound design, which worked classic modern songs into the show to enhance the pop culture references and jokes added to the script. There are no single individuals to credit with these aspects of the show, but rather teams of creatives coming together to reinvigorate Moliere’s work, echoing his warping of the normal and abnormal, and admixing the old with the new.
Props to the cast for not holding back and giving audiences a truly entertaining evening. And props to Cody, whose return to her alma mater MUST exemplifies what wonderful things can be created in the spirit of community- and fun!