Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

03/11/2011 - 26/11/2011

Production Details


Please excuse my French, but Moliere has had a makeover. This is a sexy, satirical romp through the backyards of Auckland’s elite – where the salons of Enlightenment Paris are replaced by the cabana lounges of our A-listers, and ruffled collars and lacey froufrou get obliterated by a couture sensibility. It’s time for Theresa Healey, Paolo Rotondo, Sophie Henderson and Mia Blake to eat the rich. It’s all about scandal, seduction and swimming with Silo Theatre’s Q debut as one of theatre’s greatest satires TARTUFFE opens November 4th.

It’s Auckland 2011 and a nouveau riche family is about to be undone by the arrival of Tartuffe. He’s no visitor from Hawke’s Bay, he’s a life coach with the airbrushed charisma of a telly evangelist, a diabolically witted con-man whose appetite for seduction is as firm as his grasp on religious hypocrisy. He only needs a couple of suckers who will fall for his holier-than-thou routine and, in a batty society matron and her idiot son, he’s found them. History tells us that false leaders have always been able to inspire a cult-like following and twist good words to evil ends. Welcome to Apocalypse Paritai Drive. 

… Of all the farces written in the last three hundred years, few would seem more suitable for today’s audience than TARTUFFE: Moliere’s hilarious raillery against religious fanatics, hypocrisy and sex…”  

When Silo Theatre do a big production, there’s enough bells and whistles to get noise control called. In 2008, their production of THE THREEPENNY OPERA blew the roof off the Maidment Theatre and now, with their revisionist treatment of Moliere’s wicked upmarket pantomime, expect nothing but brilliance from leading New Zealand designers John Verryt and Elizabeth Whiting. The setting for TARTUFFE is poolside, the manicured backyards of Auckland’s rich folk refracted through the lens of a psychedelic Katy Perry video. Loud, out there and most certainly, poptastic. 

TARTUFFE openly mocks the cult of personality we are all obsessed with, as much as we deny it. Hypocrisy, bigotry, and people behaving badly; we eat it up in the trashy social pages we “deplore”, following the escapades of couch-jumping A-Listers, television evangelists, “destiny” driven religious preachers… there is a contemporary resonance with Moliere’s famous work, despite the last production of this play taking place in Auckland in 1980. Anticipate some gobsmacking digs at the Rich List.  

Having premiered in 1664, Moliere’s most famous play won acclaim from both the public at by Louis XIV, but caused unrest amongst a number of different sects in France. The French Roman Catholic Church, members of upper-class French society and secret society Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement all took exception to the play, as the Archbishop of Paris threatened excommunication for anyone who viewed the play. Public performances were banned, however private performances allowed – it wasn’t until Moliere’s detractors lost their influence that he was finally allowed to perform the final version of the play. In this revisionist treatment, Auckland audiences will get to indulge in the targets of his barbed wit – hypocrisy, greed and narcissism, which of course, flourish today more than ever.

Featuring:  THERESA HEALEY (Calendar Girls; Dancing with the Stars; The Real Thing); PAOLO ROTONDO (The Little Dog Laughed; Strange Resting Places; Shortland Street); SOPHIE HENDERSON (Outrageous Fortune; The Scene; The Little Dog Laughed); MIA BLAKE (Loot; No. 2); CAMERON RHODES (Mary Stuart; Happy Days; Assassins); TIM CARLSEN (I Love You Bro; The End of the Golden Weather); NATHAN WHITAKER           (Take Me Out; The Boys in the Band; Apron Strings)

Q Theatre, 305 Queen Street, Auckland
4-26 November 2011
Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 5pm
OPEN DIALOGUE: Sunday 6 November
TWENTYSOMETHING: Wednesday 9 November
Tickets: $30.00 – $65.00 (service fees apply)
Tickets available through Q – www.qtheatre.co.nz or 09 357 9771 


Mia Blake, Tim Carlsen, Theresa Healey, Sophie Henderson, Cameron Rhodes, Paolo Rotondo, Tavai Fa’asavalu, Nathan Whitaker, Edwin Wright  
Set Design: John Verryt
Costume:     Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting:      Brad Gledhill
Sound:         Jason Smith 

2hrs 45mins, incl. interval

Raunchy reworking makes clever splash

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 05th Nov 2011

Barbs from a 17th century satire find their mark in nouveau riche Auckland   

Director Shane Bosher definitely makes some waves as he plunges into the pristine space of Q Theatre with a raunchy adaptation of Moliere’s 17th century satire against religious hypocrisy.

The extravagant production has exquisitely costumed actors tumbling in and out of a real swimming pool, the centrepiece of designer John Verryt’s brilliantly conceived riff on the garish excesses of Auckland’s nouveau riche. 

The original play was considered so dangerous that it was banned by ecclesiastical authorities. [more


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A veritable frottage of the senses

Review by Nik Smythe 04th Nov 2011

The scene is set with matriarch Madame Pernelle (Cameron Rhodes as a kind of upper-class Marjorie Dawes), storming through the shagpile-carpeted backyard swimming pool area of the opulent, well-appointed household presided over by Orgon, a bullish, uncouth bigot (also Rhodes).  As Madame expresses her demands to her in-laws, grandchildren and hired help, her plot-establishing tirade is upstaged somewhat by the unhygienic behaviour of her large black poodle – heralding a plethora of such visual distractions to come. 

The plot is simple enough as a framework in which to illustrate the convoluted contradictions of human nature through the time-honoured theatrical instrument of satirical farce:  Orgon is a tyrant to all but his mother and his esteemed houseguest, the charismatic and prosperous Christian evangelist Tartuffe, to whom he is desperately obsequious.   His insistence on creating a diplomatic bond between them via the marital union of Tartuffe and his only daughter is slightly hampered by the rest of the family’s patent mistrust of Tartuffe’s patronising and disingenuous manner. 

Orgon’s larger-than-life brood comprises: a beloved wife, image-obsessed neurotic though surprisingly astute Elmire (Theresa Healey); Elmire’s spirituality-obsessed effeminate brother Cleante (Edwin Wright); spoilt, idealistic romance-obsessed daughter Mariane (Sophie Henderson); and his son and sole heir Damis (Tim Carlsen), a volatile, combat-obsessed angry young man.

Nathan Whitaker’s Valere, the object of Mariane’s true affections, is the classic boy you couldn’t take home to meet Daddy – a hip-hop rhyme-spitting breakdancing Muslim whose crumping swagger is so cool he looks retarded.  Tavai Fa’asavalu does more than his share with his four incidental roles, primarily Tartuffe’s silent bodyguard Laurent, as well as Madame Pernelle’s pool-poohing black poodle Flipote, bailiff Lionel Loyalson, and a climactic cameo of Biblical proportions. 

In exemplary Moliere fashion, the most erudite and ostensibly sane characters are those at the lowest socio-economic level – witness Mia Blake in her star turn as outspoken Tongan housemaid Dorine, a viper-tongued champion eavesdropper whose voice of reason occasionally breaks the fourth wall, if only to inform us that she is indeed the voice of the common people.

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting match for the condescending, slimy charm of the title role than Paolo Rotondo’s despicably ruthless and conniving Tartuffe, whose eventual, much-anticipated sensational entrance alone is greeted with virtual rapture by the audience.  His rousing sermon at the opening the second act (‘Give! …And you shall be given to!’), complete with glitzy glowing ‘Tartuffe’ sign and lurid lime-green robed disciples wielding loaded eftpos machines, is delivered with more saccharine smarm than John Key and less subtlety than the Mad Butcher. 

The ensuing events and climactic catastrophe are largely born out of Orgon’s own hubris in the form of his delusional refutation of the obvious facts, all leading to a sudden contrived conclusion, intervening from left-field just as all hope seems utterly lost. 

Director Shane Bosher takes full advantage of his tremendously talented players. Together they create a rich cross-section of exaggerated modern archetypes that are rooted enough in the real world to avoid becoming a mere cartoon pastiche. 

Moliere’s Tartuffe was written entirely in alexandrines (twelve-syllable lines) and rhyming couplets.  Such poetic stanzas frequently resonate through Australian playwright Louise Fox’s accomplished variation (rejigged with local references, from the dawn raids to Don Brash et al), lending a heightened level of both playfulness and profundity.  If the script is entirely in rhyme as the original was, it’s not at all obvious in the style performed by the cast but either way there’s a definite rhythmical lyricism underpinning the intense verbosity of this histrionic gaggle of caricatures. 

It’s evident the design team has had as much of a field day as the cast on this relishable project.  Not least, Elizabeth Whiting’s first-rate costume selection hits every stereotypical nail on the head, from Flipote the poodle through Elmire’s Ab-Fabesque chav getup (plus Charlotte Dawson DIY botox kit) et al, to Tartuffe’s own comparatively stylish tailored black suit.  There’s really too much awesomeness to comprehensively describe, as is the case with the other areas of production.

John Verryt has made maximum use of the versatility of Q’s Rangatira stage, placing the action on the floor with a three-quarter round seating arrangement; the opening up of the gallery and gods adds a kind of post-modern sense of the operatic-style theatres of Moliere’s day.  The white shagpile floor compliments the gaudy pseudo-class of the pink, lime green, yellow and orange plasticity of the décor – including a functioning swimming pool and offset by the feature wall of the main entrance, papered with oversized fleur-de-lis emblems.

It’s uncertain exactly where Verryt’s set ends and Brad Gledhill’s splendiferous lighting design begins, given the presence of hundreds of tiny colour-shifting LED lights creating a path from the entranceway across to, and all around, the pool, defining further the questionable aesthetic taste of the aristocracy.  More definitively in Gledhill’s jurisdiction is the actual theatre lighting, which is to a fair degree perfunctory but prone to explode into disco showpieces with the assistance of sound designer Jason Smith, and choreographer Tairoa Royal. 

Smith’s semi-eclectic sound design willingly exploits any artist provided it’s modern, cheesy and/or entirely lacking in subtlety.  Mixing up original recordings with karaoke variations, AC/DC, Coco Solid and the Choirboys offers an idea of the musical cross-section on display.  The highlight for many will be Orgon and Tartuffe’s cringeworthy take on ‘Up Where We Belong’, itself possibly the most pretentiously earnest duet of all time. 

All told, the experience is a veritable frottage of the senses, given the florid pizzazz of the production design combined with an array of sensory effects as audience members are prone to being splashed with pool water, propositioned, or otherwise molested – though never beyond a momentary suggestion, rest assured.    

The classic premise of a corrupt religious authority figure shafting his hapless, small-minded minions is one that transcends time; it was old when it premiered (after a literally royal struggle) in 1669, and it’s as relevant today – Brian Tamaki anyone?  Any debate about original local vs. adapted foreign work is academic given the timeless and ubiquitous nature of the social and cultural issues addressed/explored/attacked in the name of entertainment and exposing the hypocrisy of the ruling classes. 

In light of this production, it is as clear as ever that a well-structured old-world narrative can sustain an extra level of impact in the way it speaks to us here and now in spite of its distant, archaic origins.  It also proves that rapid-fire dialogue dripping with derisive satire coupled with brilliantly timed slapstick is powerfully entertaining anywhere, any time.  

Theatre in Auckland hasn’t seen such unabashed lowbrow slapstick irreverence as this since ATC’s ostentatious production of the controversial Le Sud in February 2010.  Admittedly Tartuffe has the advantage of being a proven classic, and doesn’t (quite) plumb the depths of bigotry and toilet humour of that contentious work; nevertheless it’s a comparable cathartic escape from the increasingly conservative mores of present day society. 


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