Written in 1664 and regarded at the time as an audacious attack on the bigotry of ostensibly religious men in positions of power, Tartuffe remains the most pointed critique of hypocrisy, exploring the sweet power of deception and the tragic gullibility of man.
I am deeply privileged to have had the opportunity to create a Tartuffe for South African audiences. As with The Miser, a re-invention of this great classic was the key. It began with selecting a cast who could meet the challenge of the physicality required for my vision. The language of Molière had to live in the bodies and not just the mouths of the actors. By the same token, I chose a version of the play that most closely resembled Molière's original text, written in Alexandrine verse (so popular in his time), reminiscent of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter as we know it. The great challenge was to deliver rhyme with ease, while subtly underplaying obvious rhythms that can entrap characters. The actors were required to work on several different layers simultaneously: I focused on refining the heightened physical, vocal, emotional and comical techniques of their delivery, to ultimately produce a company that used the same vocabulary to tell this story.
The atmosphere in the rehearsal room was electrifying. Soon enough, our space became an incubator that gave birth to the signature style that is bold and clear in our Tartuffe.
The image that came to me when conjuring up a setting for this play was a garden abundantly full of life that is gradually deprived of oxygen and sunshine – much like our global garden can feel these days – and so reflecting Orgon's household, whose characters are brimming with a love for life, but is stifled, splintered and almost irreparably shattered by Tartuffe's self serving corruption.
I have loved challenging the gender-specific roles that Molière has penned, believing the universality of the work allows females to play male roles and vice versa in a more contemporary society. Casting a female to play the role of Cléante was a very important decision, which has informed the moral tone or the voice of reason in this version of the play. Traditionally played by an older man, Cléante offers his wisdom in relentless monologues; hearing these words uttered by a woman gives a new and different gravity to the need for transparency and truth.
The Fortune Cookie Theatre Company:
The Fortune Cookie Theatre Company was founded in 2000, at a sushi conveyorbelt in Johannesburg, South Africa. Brian Webber and Sylvaine Strike (having recently returned from furthering her craft at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris), sat together watching the sushi roll past. Work had been scarce, and, fed up with waiting for their agents to call, they decided to form a company, and began making their own work.
Fifteen years later, The Fortune Cookie theatre has produced six critically acclaimed plays, and collaborated with three independent theatre companies to produce three more. Within the company, Sylvaine and Brian revolve in their roles as actor, creator, director. When they perform together an independent director is invited in. A third company member, Chen Nakar, a structural engineer, became part of Fortune Cookie in 2002, becoming its resident set designer and company manager. His acclaimed designs have become synonymous with the signature style of the company's work. In 2011, the company´s youngest member William Harding was invited to come on board as researcher, actor and assistant producer/administrator.