national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, May 28, 2017


 (Craig Morris & Vanessa Cooke)

The interpretation by a superb cast has made this production masterful. (Report by Dawn Haynes, Livewire)

Alliance Française in Durban and the French Institute of SA have once again given Durban audiences a rare opportunity to experience the unique style of playwright Moliere , by bringing the Fortune Cookie Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe to the Courtyard Theatre.

Director Sylvaine Strike has taken this excellent translation by Richard Wilber and created a masterpiece of French Comedy theatre. Written entirely in rhyming couplets, the dialogue is clever, witty and highly entertaining. However, it is the interpretation by a superb cast that has made this production masterful.

From the opening dance sequence choreographed by Owen Lonzar, the energy on stage never wavers. There is a control and an enjoyment portrayed by each performer which would have made Moliere himself proud. Neil McCarthy as Orgon has a commanding presence and conveys the confidence of his misled character to perfection.

As Tartuffe, Craig Morris fluctuates superbly from the penitent sinner to the lustful seducer as the various layers of his character unfold. Khatjo Green as Elmire, Orgon’s wife, was both delightful and controlled as she dominated the highly amusing seduction scene. With Tartuffe under the table, the timing in this scene was superb and the audience were fully involved. It was obvious from the response of the full house of senior, mostly female, students that there were many aspects of this play that they could relate to. With the present media attention to women abuse, they were fully aware of the situations in this play and responded enthusiastically in support of the women. Their spontaneous applause and encouraged screams showed just how relevant Moliere’s play is in South Africa today.

However, it was Vanessa Cooke as the servant/gardener Dorine who stole the show for me. Her actions, reactions and movements were clever, witty and sustained throughout. What a joy to experience the talents of this amazing actress in this style of theatre! Stylised comedic acting is so different from the realism that we see in most modern plays and she led the cast in using every opportunity to make the most of every word and gesture. She carefully manipulated each scene and had the audience enthralled throughout. A truly outstanding performance!

The actors all had the necessary energy and interpretation of situation to keep the action of the play at maximum level throughout. This was a strong cast who worked well together to ensure that the careful and complex movements were sustained effectively. The themes of hypocrisy, greed and corruption of the wealthy upper-class as well as the power of the church at the time and the misuse of religious practices, caused this play to be closed and censored when it was first produced in 17th century France. The fact that such issues are as relevant now as they were then, acclaims the inherent human failings that make this play a classic. As director Sylvaine Strike says: “It’s incredibly funny, while exploring very dark themes all at once. That is the beauty of Moliere.”

Visually, the production was extremely well planned. Set designers Sacha Ehlers and Chen Naker created a workable and highly effective set with minimal clutter. The opulence of the wealthy household was cleverly portrayed in the filigree carving of the facade and the delicate fabric of the drapes, while the costumes complimented this visual image, adding a certain comedic element subtly and effectively.

Sylvaine Strike sums this up so well by saying: “This play has the perfect balance of comedy, drama and intrigue. It is a visual feast “.  I agree fully.

The spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation at the end was proof that this young audience felt the same! They loved the play, they identified with the situations and they were superbly entertained throughout.

As they go on tour to Johannesburg and Cape Town, The Fortune Cookie Theatre Company will allow  the audiences in South Africa to experience and enjoy this memorable and exciting classic of theatre. Thank you, Alliance Française in Durban! - Dawn Haynes, Livewire

(The Livewires are members of a team of theatre supporters who are encouraged to distribute their responses to productions)