So, on the 25th of May, Orgon Poquelin died spectacularly onstage. This followed a relatively successful revival of his fictional ‘career’ in which his life story was performed to over 6,000 people across the past 3 years by a troupe that eventually totalled around 20 actors.
Belt Up was sad to see ‘The Tartuffe’ receive its final curtain call but everything must come to an end.
As a little goodbye we thought we’d put together some of our favourite audience moments and responses because these were the moments that really brought the show to life. Thank you to every single audience member who has helped make this show what it is, without you it would be just a group of actors titting around as French people…
Here are our top ten moments:
10. Mr Leach’s Email.
We performed ‘The Tartuffe’ at Dominic J Allen’s (Orgon Poquelin) old high school – Great Wyrey Performing Arts High School – to a very enthusiastic audience who loved the show. The following week we received a rather damning email from the head teacher about the shows content, the use of teachers onstage and climbing on seats etc. This is a fond memory as ‘The Tartuffe’ deserves a bit of controversy and this was essentially our equivalent to the Church banning Molière’s original. It’s important to note that Mr Leach, didn’t actually see the show he just heard from staff the next day – out of context I imagine the show sounds a lot more controversial than it actually is - but of course that is the nature of most complainers…
9. Doc Brown/Doc Martin
In the re-write for the Southwark Playhouse run of ‘The Tartuffe’ the second time Madame Pernelle appears in the play, she was played by an audience member. This led to some of the most hilarious audience contributions and a number of this top ten is comprised of them. One of the highlights was an old man who was the spitting image of Doc Brown from back to the future. When he came to say his ‘lines’ it also turned out that he also sounded just like him, until he started attempting an Irish accent, clenched Orgon and said in the creepiest whisper “I’m your mother”. We of course made a big thing of the fact that he had a fake Doc Brown onstage during which Rachel Finnegan who was playing Dorine repeatedly referred to him as Doc Martin who is a character from a Sunday evening drama starring Martin Clunes.
8. The Mormon Minor
Those of you who saw the production for ‘The Red Room’ may well have been molested or even ridden by Danie Linsell’s French character, Margaret. One performance she befriended a whole group of young American school children, the youngest of which she chose as her ‘pet’. Towards the end of the show she chose to ride said boy across the stage whilst his friends laughed hysterically and announced he was a Mormon. He seemed to enjoy himself nevertheless.
7. The 50 person water attack
During ‘The Squat’ production of The Tartuffe, there was a bit where an audience member ran up to throw a glass of water in Orgon’s face. This progressed to several audience members which in turn led to Orgon retaliating. One performance towards the end of the run saw the entire audience orchestrated to throw water at Orgon; in a bizarre act of divine intervention, not a single drop hit Orgon…
6. Phil Collins’ cameo
Again, an audience member dragged up to play Madame Pernelle became a highlight. This particular incident resulted in the entire cast corpsing horrendously. The said audience member was the spitting image of Phil Collins which had been addressed throughout the show. He was dragged up as Madame Pernelle, in turn shouted at by Orgon and then screamed off the stage. As he exited, with an old lady’s trolley and dressed in a nightie he enthusiastically but rather out of tune belted out ‘In the Air Tonight’.
5. “I’ll fuck him”
Over the years there have been over 80 different audience members dragged up to play the part of Valere. They all respond in different ways, some are terrified, some are cocky but there was one which stands out as our favourite. In one performance of the show at the Southwark Playhouse included a Valere that was not intimidated at all by being onstage. He was a tall man who looked a bit like Triple H from WWE and when Dorine was explaining how the family needed to work out a plan to bring down Tartuffe he calmly volunteered with “I’ll fuck him”
4. ‘Mother please calm down’
During the long runs at the Edinburgh fringe, to keep things fresh and alive, each cast member was given a secret challenge to complete during the show. One of these challenges was “The original Molière includes an assistant character to Madame Pernelle called Flipote. Please cast this role” and so Jethro Compton as Renard cast this sweet middle aged woman. There was no stopping her from this point. As soon as she was onstage she was talking French, dancing around and generally confusing the entire cast which naturally led to her being berated by Orgon. When Madame Pernelle returned late on in the play, Dominic Allen entered from behind a curtain. This lady took this as her cue and so when Orgon, as Pernelle emerged out from behind the curtain he was confronted by this eager woman saying “Mother, Please caaaaalm doooooooown”. This led to Orgon corpsing for a very long time.
3. The Frasier Reunion
Throughout the show numerous audience members are brought onstage to deliver props or play roles. In one performance at the Southwark Playhouse, through sheer brilliant coincidence a moment of magic happened. A woman brought on to deliver a telephone looked identical to Daphne from Frasier. The audience member playing Valere looked like Nialls and an audience member delivered a prop whilst imitating a dog. When the audience member was brought on to play Madame Pernelle we noticed that he looked a lot like Frasier Crane. This then made us realise that Valere looked like Nialls and then we remembered the Daphne-a-like and then rounded it off with the punchline of the dog reprising his role. In a bizarre domino effect of realisation we ended up with an impromptu Frasier reunion.
2. Neil Gaiman’s stage debut
A lot of performances included the troupe singling out celebrity look a likes and so this was a regular occurrence throughout the shows life. This is why during a performance in ‘The Squat’, Niamh Walsh (Mimi/Mariane) didn’t think anything of Dominic J Allen’s suggestion that she pick a Neil Gaiman look a like to play Valere. When Niamh (who is a huge Neil Gaiman fan) had to ask her Valere his name, he of course said ‘Neil’. Her face dropped and with a look of awe she told Orgon ‘Neil…his name is actually Neil’. We can now proudly hold the claim that Neil Gaiman has acted in a Belt Up show.
1. Orgon’s death
Nothing throughout the show’s history compares to the audience reaction to Orgon’s eventual death at the end of the final performance. As Orgon’s body was lifted into the air by the troupe like Christ, confetti billowed down and ‘Zadok the Priest’ kicked into that amazing choral bit, the audience reaction at that point was phenomenal. Everyone was on their feet (admittedly they’d been asked to rise out of respect) cheering and the moment was an amazing way to kill off the lead and say goodbye to the show.
These are just a handful of the many fond memories that the company has of this show and nearly all of them are the responsibility of the audience members who made the show what it was. For this we are eternally grateful and to use a cliché, it couldn’t have happened without them.
‘The Tartuffe’ has been put to bed now but we are all gearing up to another epic Edinburgh programme. We look forward to seeing you in the audience for them…
Rest in Peace, Orgon Poquelin