The Tartuffe Review
The term "award-winning" is tossed around the Fringe as much as flyers discarded in bins. But Belt Up Theatre deserve the moniker, with their refreshingly captivating spin on Moliere's classic through site-specific and physical theatre.
Before the venue doors have opened, the vaudeville mix of clowns, mimes and Tim Burton-esque dolls weave through the waiting line, eagerly asking questions and introducing themselves (each character incidentally has a twitter account you can keep track of). This is not a straightforward adaptation; James Wilkes' vision was three years in progress and is a modernised play-up to contemporary culture but maintaining Moliere's original narrative.
We are ushered into the specially designed theatre space, a crumbling-walled bohemian den scattered with sofas and mattresses which the audience are directed to, surrounded by trinkets and haunting lighting. As the characters mingle within the audience, we're introduced to theatrical luvvie Orgon Poquelin (Dominic Allen), determined to endow upon the spectators a compassionate view of himself, but undercut by his shambling troupe as they tell the tale of how he was duped by fraudster Tartuffe (Nik Morris, who looks like an evil John Lennon).
Taking the central theme of false front from Moliere's original, the production is a superb, unregulated, anarchic romp as the characters falter and shamble through their story interrupted at many turns by cue misses, lack of respect for each other's performance skills and Orgon's ego in a meta-performance delight. The theme of idolatry, from religion through to modern celebrity culture is explored by the company with a delightfully dogmatic approach; sprinkled with pop culture references to films and television throughout.
Hitting us with several styles melded into one - mime, street performance, burlesque, clowning and kabuki - this is a tour de force where the fourth wall is effectively shattered and discarded; not a piece for those who like the safety of quaint, proscenium arch theatre.
The audience is welcomed into the fold, being included in the onstage action and cued by whispers from the cast when to interrupt with various props. Audience participation is always tricky but the risk pays off in the thrill of delivery by the cast and each spectator who is approached is so enchanted they are willingly ready to become involved in the magic.
Culminating in an all-out war between the actors, mirroring the disputes of the family they are portraying, the piece climaxes with a pastiche of fighting sequences, a postmodern Battle Royale meeting Star Wars and Terminator along the way. Each performer is immersed in their roles and there are activities at every corner of the room ensuring you are completely wrapped up in their world.
On this occasion, the cast were one-man down due to an injury and strong painkillers, but the troop are so fantastic that you wouldn't even know and the production does not suffer. Belt Up live up to their name ensuring you'll want to hold on for the ride, successfully creating an audaciously contemporary tale from a classic story that's stimulating, rousing and charmingly amusing. Farcical satire has never been so enjoyable and you'll find yourself dwindling out the door, wanting to savour every moment of this inventive and thoroughly thrilling performance.
Times: 5-31 August, 8.55pm
© Lindsay Corr, August 2009