Wild Rice stages French satire Tartuffe with wigs, corsets and a new ending

Tartuffe: The Imposter will be on at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre from April 7 to 24 this year. PHOTO: WILD RICE

SINGAPORE - French playwright Moliere's satire Tartuffe: The Imposter is getting a new ending in Wild Rice's re-staging. The classic will be on at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre from April 7 to 24.

Playwright Joel Tan, 34, who is writing the adaptation, says: "The ending has always puzzled me. Anyone who's staged the play or was trying to adapt it has found the ending slightly unwieldy."

Director Glen Goei, 59, adds: "It may be very controversial to Moliere purists. But I believe this was the final scene that Moliere wanted to write but wasn't allowed to put on."

Tartuffe tells the story of the eponymous conman (Benjamin Chow) who inveigles his way into the life of the rich but gullible Orgon (Ivan Heng).

Orgon is enamoured with Tartuffe, whom he regards as a pious holy man. Orgon's family, however, sees through Tartuffe's sanctimony and detests his hypocrisy.

The play was banned after its premiere in 1664 as the French Roman Catholic Church found the depiction of false piety offensive. No record exists of this original version and current stagings use the 1669 published version, which was revised by Moliere.

Tan notes that this version "comes out of the censorship circumstances of the original production. It was all about appeasing the king and the conservative order of the time".

Trying to rewrite Moliere's ending was the hardest thing about the adaptation, "figuring out how to end in a way that feels satisfying and relevant and true", says Tan.

Another challenge in adapting Moliere, he says, "was to resist localising it".

"There is a kind of adaptation pathway where you just transpose the whole thing to a Singapore context. I wanted to not do that and to try and use the original beats, some of the original images and language and give it a kind of contemporary sound while retaining the classical structure and aesthetic."

Hence the play stays true to its 17th-century setting, complete with make-up, wigs and corsets. With 12 actors on stage, this necessitates a whole team of make-up artists and hairdressers behind the scenes.

Goei promises the production will be a feast for the eyes. "Unlike my other reimaginings of classics which were very modern, very minimalistic, very monochromatic, this production will be the exact opposite. It will be colourful and fun."

He has long wanted to stage Tartuffe. "I love Moliere. He's the most famous French playwright in the French-speaking world, equivalent to Shakespeare in the English-speaking world. But he's rarely staged here."

Director Glen Goei (left) and playwright Joel Tan at Wild Rice Funan on March 21, 2022. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

While the play may be centuries old, Goei points out that its themes are still relevant today.

"The themes of Tartuffe, religious hypocrisy in particular, are very pertinent, not just in the Singapore context, but also in the world context, because we are dealing with religious conflict and religious wars over the past decades, centuries and millennia. It's such a common theme because religion is such a potent force and, when used in the wrong hands, it could lead to a lot of destruction and death."

Despite the serious themes, the duo are quick to emphasise that it is a very funny play in the grand tradition of French satires.

(From left) Performers Ivan Heng, Oon Shu and Jo Tan at a preview of Tartuffe at Wild Rice Funan on March 21, 2022. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

Tan says: "I want people to laugh very hard. But I also hope it leaves a sort of nugget of anxiety in people."

Book it/Tartuffe: The Imposter (R18)

Where: Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre, Wild Rice @ Funan, Level 4, 107 North Bridge Road
When: April 7 to 24; Tuesdays to Thursdays, 7.30pm; Saturdays, 2.30 and 7.30pm; Sundays, 2 and 7pm
Admission: $40 to $90
Info: Visit this website.

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