blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tartuffe in Newfoundland

We had tickets for the preview of Tartuffe at the National Arts Centre last night. It wasn't in French, because this was an English Theatre production, set, in fact, in St. John's, Newfoundland, in 1939, and the English version was Molière's French translated into subtly rhyming couplets using the Newfoundland slang of the 30s––very clever indeed. The man who did the translation was also the actor who played Tartuffe on stage (Andy Jones) who says:
I used a lot of expressions from Newfoundland. I consulted three dictionaries, and used many familiar turns of phrase. I also made up a few expressions of my own.
Molière would have recognised the plot, although Orgon in this version becomes a wealthy fish merchant who is also a veteran of the first World War; he has lost an arm in the war:
It's important to the ending of the play that the main character be a hero in a recent war. World War I was a significant event in Newfoundland. We lost a greater per capita proportion of men than any of the other dominions in the British Commonwealth. Almost every family was touched by the war. Orgon becomes a believable character as a World War I hero.
The French names of the characters were preserved, and Molière would have recognised some of the dialogue too. One scene was a fairly literal translation of
DORINE. Madame eut avant-hier la fièvre jusqu'au soir, Avec un mal de tête étrange à concevoir.
ORGON. Et Tartuffe?
DORINE. Tartuffe? Il se porte à merveille, Gros et gras, le teint frais, et la bouche vermeille.
ORGON. Le pauvre homme! [etc., etc.]
The "poor man" gets his comeuppance in the final scene which was brilliantly staged in this production with all the other protagonists turning to worship Orgon instead, wearing the famous tablecloth, in which he's become entangled, like a toga.

Before we went into the theatre we listened to a discussion between the artistic director, Jillian Keilly, and the enthusiastic wardrobe manager, Marie Sharpe, both of whom are from Newfoundland themselves. It was quite a revelation to hear how important the costumes, lighting and set-design are to a show such as this and how much care is taken over their creation. The set was big and on four levels; it looked like a house split in half, a life-sized, thoroughly furnished doll's house with a board walk winding through rocks in front of it and a deck with washing line to the side. Lively use was made of the doors and stairwell. In the distance (backdrop) was a hint of other houses under a northern sky. The music sounded authentic too, the actors turning into a band of evangelists between scenes, singing Jesus-loves-you songs in a NFL style, in harmony. They have remarkably good voices.

The audience laughed throughout and enjoyed it immensely.

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