Friday, 22 September 2017
The Hypocrite | Melbourne Theatre Company
Written by Carol Middleton   
Friday, 14 November 2008 22:43
The Hypocrite | Melbourne Theatre CompanyLeft - Kim Gyngell and Marina Prior. Cover - Garry McDonald and Kim Gyngell. Photos - Jeff Busby


From the moment the audience lights were dimmed and we were introduced to the bizarrely dressed maid Dorine (Mandy McElhinney) going about her domestic duties with an insolent air, I knew we were in for a treat. Stephen Curtis’s set consisted of two pieces of period French furniture plus a cardboard box, a glass table and two plastic chairs, and his costumes approximated a seventeenth-century French style undercut by miniskirts, bouffon (and worse) hairdos and extraordinary shoes. Enter Madame Pernelle (Kerry Walker) in a voluminous blow-up dress with bag to match and the tone was set for the night. The pantomime was in town. 

What a novel way to tart up a dusty seventeenth-century play, a favourite with Louis XIV. Not that it was necessary to vulgarise Tartuffe, Molière’s title for the play. Justin Fleming had already done a fabulous job of translating the original, capturing the earthy quality of the French with contemporary Australian slang and references. No mean feat, since the French play was written in rhyming couplets. Fleming, who was there to take a bow, kept many of the rhyming couplets but rearranged the rhyming order of other lines to suit the English language and the characters. The actors did a fine job of using these unusual rhythms of speech to enhance the comedy.

The play revolves around the character of a religious hypocrite Tartuffe (Kim Gyngell), who has wormed his way into the affluent home of Orgon (Garry McDonald). Orgon is blind to Tartuffe’s hypocrisy until the villain is finally unmasked. We are threatened with a tragic ending before a theatrical device switches the characters’ fortunes once again. The plot cannot be taken seriously, even if the moral issues are under serious scrutiny. Much of the play is taken up with diatribes by Orgon’s family, attempts to discredit the intruder and uphold their own moral code. Although the young Louis XIV gave it the thumbs up, it was banned for five years as an insult to the religious community.

Outstanding among the household members is McDonald, who blasts on to the stage with a tempestuous energy, sweeping the play along in a torrent of words. A consummate comedian, he uses his body and voice to underline key phrases and define his character. The director (Peter Evans) makes full use every actor’s talents for comedy, creating a cast of absurd caricatures, ranging from Orgon’s spoilt brats – the petulant daughter in pink Mariane (Sara Gleeson) and the barely contained emo son in orange Damis (Chris Ryan) – to the wildly imagined Flipote and jovial bearer of bad news Monsieur Loyal (both played with relish by James Wardlaw). Marina Prior is perfect as the alluring Elmire, Orgon’s wife, rising to a comic climax in the seduction scene. Most memorable, though, was her spontaneous response to what could have been a fatally early entry by Tartuffe. That brought the house down.

The exception to the cast of colourful caricatures is Tartuffe, who appears in black jeans and turtleneck, with greasy hair and black spectacles, a slimy toad incarnate. Gyngell is unwavering in maintaining this unsavoury character, showing not even a redeeming love of poetry in his rendition of the text. He takes his character description - a bum who has come in off the street and taken over the house - literally. This justifies the hatred he inspires in almost all around him, but perhaps a little more evidence of self-love, of love of his own hollow homilies, would have made him more interesting and done justice to Fleming’s and Molière’s words.

Another dimension was added to the play by the use of a musician/actor (Bert Labonte) behind a one-way mirror. His casual guitar and the playful musical score created a mood of light-heartedness and mockery. Labonte’s relaxed manner was that of a chorus or amused god commenting with irony on the action below.

This is a production that relies on boldness for its impact. Even the lighting (by Matt Scott) avoids the subtle and goes for the big and brassy. Strongly lit from the side as well as illuminated by overhead chandeliers, the impression is of opulence and brilliance, an ambience in which the reptilian Tartuffe cannot survive for long. Translated for the twenty-first century, The Hypocrite is pure entertainment and this production brings the MTC’s year to a resounding close. The company is going from strength to strength.

Melbourne Theatre Company Presents
The Hypocrite
A new version of Molière’s Tartuffe
by Justin Fleming
Director: Peter Evans
Starring: Garry McDonald, Kim Gyngell, Marina Prior, Ashley Zukerman, Sara Gleeson, Mandy McElhinney, Kerry Walker, Chris Ryan, Nicholas Bell, Bert Labonte, James Wardlaw and Martin Sharpe

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 8 November – 13 December 2008
Times: Monday – Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday – Friday 8pm, Saturday 8.30pm, Matinees Wednesday 1pm and Saturday’s 4pm
Tickets: $28.50 - $75.30
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 723 038 or
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Comments (9)

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Saw The Hypocrite on Saturday night.

What a totally under-edited disaster!
The set, in my opinion, was drab and a "good idea done badly", costumes were entertaining but inconsistent. Kim Gyngell was wrongly cast, how could anyone be taken in by that weaselly character. Nothing against Mr Gyngell having adored his previous 2008 MTC stint!

A clever class commentary farce was turned into a serious of too long, dreary monologues.

Bravo Malthouse for your brilliant witty fast paced production, try again MTC!
Ali , November 17, 2008
Loved every minute! We're going again!
Jane Barker , November 21, 2008
I totally agree with Kevin Jackson - the best imaginable night in the theatre! Really wonderful in every way. It's a long while since my friends and I heard such laughter and applause in a theatre. 5 Stars!
Tim Morton , November 21, 2008
Loved the music by Bert LaBonte - is there a C.D. available of his music?
faye Trompf , November 24, 2008
Absolutely awful. Certainly the low point for what was otherwise a very successful season for the MTC.

The script altered the shift of the play entirely and lost all commentary on the shallow values of bourgeois society.

The performances were embarrsingly inconsistent. Gyngel was certainly the highlight however smaller parts like that of Labonte (stick to the music) were below mediocrity.

The coupled verse was at times forced and unalterably tiresome.

The end whilst attempting to wake up the sleeping audience with some fancy set maneuvers was nothing more than an amateruish deus ex machina.

If you had wanted to see a wonderful contemporised take on one of Molier?'s most popular satires you're nine months to late. The Malthouse adaption outclassed this amateur pantomime in every way.
Nick , November 27, 2008
The MTC production was far superior to that of Malthouse theatre. Flemming's clever rhyming patterns and characters stuck closly to the original, with great aussie humour, and fantastic costumes. Unlike Malthouse it does not feel the need to portray a homosexual storyline to be classes as modern, also one cares about the characters, unlike malthouse in which I couldn't give a ... The set was much more impressive than the tacky green of the traverse staging of malthouse. AND Kim Gyngell was perfectly cast - Tartuffe is supposed to be like that! That is the point. Having an attractive Tartuffe such as Marcus Graham defeats the point of a hypocrite, who is supposed to be disgusting and lechorous as Kim Gyngell divinely played it.
ronelle , November 28, 2008
Agreed, absolutely awful!!! We left at half time to escape the coupled verse.
John , December 04, 2008
Just returned from the second last performance and read the crits on this site. What a pity some people weren't able to appreciate the clever translation (culturally and literally). I thought the rhyming couplets were brilliant, the not-so-sbutle lapses into Okker humour reminded me of the best local productions of G and S which make reference to the language and humour of the locality. And the acting was appropriately over-the-top. A very enjoyable end to the year. I am left with immense admiration for Justin Fleming. Thank you.
Tanya guest , December 12, 2008
I went with a school group, and we were all laughing the whole way through.
Reading these comments, I couldn't believe what some people thought! I thought it was fantastic, and the actors suited their characters perfectly.
The joke of 'you got Tartuffed' lasted for a well earned long time. We all enjoyed the show throughly, and I would have loved to see it a second time!
Sarah , March 29, 2009

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