Monday, February 25, 2008

Criticising a grain of dust on the Mona Lisa's nose

I went to see Tartuffe last night, and while it was generally speaking alright, it was also All Wrong. Or, to put it another way, the production was finely acted, with an excellent set design, decent music and sound effects, and clever casting, and I came away from the whole thing sniffing and harrumphing fit to burst. Of course, with me, you have to remember that I like arguing and criticising so much that if I ever see the Mona Lisa in France, I'll probably end up talking about the grain of dust on her nose that ruins the whole effect. Still...

Like most modern adaptations of plays by the great dramatists (Moliere shares this position with Shakespeare), it was set in an entirely different period and place to the one which Moliere himself would have envisaged for his play (ie, the actual period and place he was writing in - seventeenth century France). Basically, I'm an outrageous pedant, so this is just the sort of thing that gets stuck in my craw (whatever a craw is). Why can't we ever have a Shakespearean play set in Shakespearean times? I'd probably go to the lengths of criticising Shakespeare himself for not being Shakespearean enough in a production he puts on of his own plays. You might argue with this, saying that Shakespeare himself probably didn't have any set rules for costumes and sets in his plays, but really! I ask you! He certainly had no excuse for doing so.

So, anyway. Tartuffe was set in modern-day Melbourne, in a large expensive Toorak house, with the roles being played variously as a decrepit old Melbourne stockbroker, a GPS school boy, a Jewish-Russian maid, and a falsely-pious Hillsong-style conman (that's Tartuffe.) Like most period dramas plucked out of their own period and set in another, there were a lot of odd or incongruous lines - so you have dumb private schoolboys referring to themselves as, 'the anointed one', modern-day Australian characters making 'ardent' prayers, and frequent vows to 'the King' (not 'The Premier' or 'The Prime Minister' or even 'The Queen'!) This, alongside frequent references to the Gaza Strip and Facebook. (A pretty basic problem in re-setting the play in modern Australia, obviously, is that these jarring, contradictory period references will immediately leap out at their audience in a way that they wouldn't have done if the play was set, oh, maybe a decade ago.)

In my lust for authentically historical and historically authentic dramas, I got thinking afterwards about what the perfect staging of a Moliere play would look like. I decided that not only would such a production be set in the time that Moliere wrote, it would be more realistic than the reality experienced by Moliere himself. Stay with me here: one imagines that the original play would have been accompanied by music on the viols by Lully. Well, not only would this production have viols, but it would be played by the vilest viol players ever to have set foot on this earth - I mean, real freaking ugly ones. The original production would probably have had wigs: well, not only would this production have wigs, but it would have the biggest, shapeliest wigs in all of creation. Maybe with three wigs for each character, (each carved into the shape of some authentic 17th-century French scene, like peasants working joyously in the fields, or a popular Pope, or perhaps a minor war against the English dogs.)

To get the audience into the general feel of authentic 17th-century realism, a chamber pot would be emptied over each of their heads at the start of the production. (The contents would, of course, have been evacuated by a French nobleman from the 1600s, or, if this is not possible, lovingly crafted for the production by a modern-day artisan specialising in the craft of period micturation and evacuation.) And of course, all members of the audience would be lovingly selected throughout an audition process, and prepared for the production by a trial period of famine and/or black plague. (On the other hand, they would be equipped with bricks and rotten apples before the beginning of the show, just to even things up.)

The Palace of Versailles would of course be shipped to Australia for the production. Though I wouldn't be fussy about it; the French could of course keep some of it. As long as I ended up with a hall and a few pools, I'd be happy. All the characters would of course travel about the stage on warhorses, and of course bathe every day in an authentic 17th-century French bath of rose-water, wine, and honey, after which they would roll themselves in a gigantic vat of pomade (placed in the centre of the stage.) And of course, there would be no skimping on the final scene, where Tartuffe is dragged down into hell by the votaries and potentates of Satan. Beelzebub, or, at the very least, Mephistopheles would be recruited into the cast for this role, and instructed on pain of - well, on pain of life to furnish the scene with more than enough sulfur and brimstone.

I suppose you might object that the demons would only work for the price of one soul, and you could be right (though I do think we could get the unions to strike up an agreeable contract with them). But I told you it was a fantasy, didn't I? Of course, failing Lully as a composer, a palace for the set, and the absence of wigs and pomade, the least I reckon the producers could do is not resort to cheap jokes about Facebook, or karaoke song contests.

Anyway - I like where I'm going with this, so I'm off now to petition the Australian Council of the Arts to lend me the billion dollars or so to get this whole thing in the initial stages of production. Huzzah!


TimT said...

All right, all right, I'll have a Bex and a lie down now. It really wasn't that bad a play. I actually laughed more than once. Sheesh!

prude said...

I is thinking you would like the Romeo + Juliet I has rewritten on Prudey's site.

As for Shakespearean rules, I has looked closely and I has not seen anything saying that the characters was not penguins!

Maria said...

'Course, a historically correct Shakespearean tragedy would require a lot of realistic deaths, duels and murders. You might have to have a lot of understudies if you wanted to retake a lot of scenes. Oh for a realistic gas chamber or remake of "Troy"!

You'd be a popular director, TimT, mark my words. The insurance companies'll be clambering over themselves to have you on board.

I suggest a good healthy investment in public cemeteries before you embark on ye project. Perhaps you could do a nice project on real life love at first sights and do some good for them dateless on RSVP?

TimT said...

A very good point, Prude. (Not to self: more penguins.) I also neglected to mention that my perfect production of Moliere would contain ambidestrous elephants.

Maria, not sure if I can provide a dating service for love at first sight, but I can do a nice line in love at building sites. I'm sure that would work...

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a spectacle of almost eighteenth-century proportions to me. The style of acting would have to be very overstated too- as large as the ambitions of the director.

I can't claim to be a pedant and I really don't mind how my Shakespeare or Moliere is served but there are two things which do irritate me, these being (a)resorting to cheap laughs, especially cheap, hipster laughs or sexual innuendo which really isn't very clever at all and (b)an interpretation which hasn't really been completely worked out. Sometimes people think simply setting the play in some "edgy" setting will make the play itself "edgy" as a matter of course.

I'm sorry to trample on the dream, but the horrible truth is that you cannot get within cooee of the Mona Lisa and you have a better chance of spotting that fleck of dust in a reproduction, for she is encased in thick glass, flanked by security guards and under constant assault by a thick throng, which is barely contained by the barrier and which generally ignores the other wonderful things in the same room, like Titian.

TimT said...

I did consider briefly marching into the Louvre and demanding of the staff, 'Show us your Titians!', but the French take offence at the strangest things...

One of the characters in this production was a hip-hopping Muslim dude, but he was believable - just.

kimba said...

eeek and I was about to fork out the $$ to see Marcus Graham in the almost buff.. thanks for the heads up about your new show coming up - I'll save my money and invest when the time comes.

(p.s.. I worked at Ozco.. for quite a whiles.. I know people..)

Anonymous said...

Au contraire, the French are inclined to roll with the punches, for, as you may have noticed (depending on the year in which you were indulging your Titian fetish), they provide both a standard audio guide for the Louvre and a DaVinci Code edition. Filthy lucre brings us all together.
Indeed, one of the most fascinating things about the Louvre is how badly people behave when they're there. I was witness to an extraordinary scene of a crowd of tourists playing a kind of cat-and-mouse game with the attendant, whereby they would touch a Canova sculpture whenever his back was turned, repeatedly. And none of them were frogmarched out.

Anyway, well off course. I think Bell Shakespeare often do what you're talking about here, but there was a Belvoir St production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (which was at the Malthouse at some point, perhaps- I don't know), where they had all the actors sing an a capella version of the Velvet Underground's Pale Blue Eyes at the beginning, but it was a misfire on the preview night I attended, as most of the audience was far too young to know who the VU were.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

There once was a blogs'trous curmudgeon,
Who fumed in a state of high dudgeon.
Not giving a stuffe
For Toorak Tartuffe,
He bludgeoned its modern produdgeon.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I went to choir practice tonight, and the man who was meant to bring my hatstand forgot it, and I'd only gone to get my hatstand, though I couldn't tell them that, and that's why I'm doing barely workable limericks. Gottit? Good night.

TimT said...

I love to curmudge in high dudge, it's true.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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