After the sell out successes of last term’s TFTV productions, Simon Stephen’s Motortown and Punk Rock, this term the stakes have been set high with a diversion away from contemporary drama and to some of the finest Early Modern plays. Later this term TFTV students will be transporting us back to 17th century France with tales of deceit, cunningness and farce, deriving from productions of Corneille’s The Illusion and Molière’s Tartuffe. I am not a historian or learned dramatist and so am eagerly anticipating what kind of adaption and style of production TFTV will chose for these renowned classics.
Both pieces revolve around a comedy of manners, a ridicule of the ruling bourgeois classes to which Corneille and Molière belonged. But let us take Tartuffe in more detail. Tartuffe tells the story of a family that is torn apart by an unwelcome houseguest, the play’s eponymous charlatan, and his shrewd ability to exploit others by embodying a façade of religious zeal. The play centres on the family’s arduous attempts to reveal to Orgon, the patriarch of the household, Tartuffe’s true nature as an impostor. Their efforts however lead to a series of unpredictable misfortunes that land the entire family in serious peril.
With Tartuffe, Moliere thus presents a character who is a satire of his society, as whilst he challenges and mocks its religious fervour, he also embodies the very self-aggrandising and seemingly pious behaviour that enables him to exploit society and encourage others to hand him power. Yet, Molière’s play, which was repeatedly banned before an eventual public performance in 1669, is neither a tragedy nor a history; it is a comedy, but a comedy where something dangerous lies in the balance. Tartuffe is therefore a play that entertains through farcical situations and character types but more importantly teaches of the power of ideologies to destroy lives. It is in a nutshell, an attack on religious hypocrisy and individual zeal.
My fingers are left crossed in anticipation of what TFTV will bring to this classic masterpiece and I am somewhat ironically praying for their interpretation of the play to do Molière justice. This is an opportunity for TFTV to demonstrate that despite a 17th century backdrop, the classics are classic for a reason and to show all of us that Moliere and Corneille are still current in society 350 odd years later.
Tartuffe and The Illusion will be on stage in the Scenic Stage Theatre in Week 9 Thurs 6th-Sat 8th. Tickets will be available to purchase from York Store in the coming weeks.