Early modern theatre is often a tough sell; posters and websites often promise that the seventeenth century farce will shine a damning light on modern western culture, the language remains awkward and performers will slip into a sing song tone which overrides any integrity of performance. So it was with some trepidation that I stepped into the Scenic Stage Theatre at the department of Theatre, Film and Television once again to watch Turcaret.
As always I was first struck by the set design of the piece. Megan Bailey has created a clean playing space that is thankfully without unnecessary bells and whistles and allows the story of Turcaret to play without interruption. So what of the story? It’s important to say right of the bat that Turcaret is absolute nonsense. Characters are absolutely unable to deduce that anything said to them in the moment is a lie yet they have an astonishing clairvoyance which enables them to predict who is about to walk through the door and announce them loudly four seconds before their arrival. The plot is convoluted and ridiculous, I would try and explain the plot but there’s absolutely no point. It’s early modern, servants scheme, nobles are embarrassed, liars revealed, the lot. It’s everything about theatre I fundamentally hate.
And yet it’s glorious. It’s delightful. It’s been a long time since I sat in the theatre and felt myself be able to relax and know that I’m really going to enjoy myself. There’s a revelatory moment in the second act where the plot gets so confusing and nonsensical that it becomes a sort of meta pantomime and the quick fire jokes brought the house down.
What is it that makes Turcaret such a joy? Perhaps it’s the sure handed direction from Alex Urquhart, Amy Noriko Ward and Sam Duffy. Or maybe John Norman’s self parodying and light translation brought to life by a strong and dedicated cast who clearly revelled in the audiences laughter and applause (particular mention must go to Samantha Finlay’s performance as the Comtesse, which had us all in stitches). The performers are unified with Norman in the meta self-parody that is such a smart way of interpreting Lesage’s French comedy.
It’s such a joy to see the companies that brought us the emotionally intense Pomona and The Wonderful World of Dissocia be able to stage a play purely for the purpose of comic entertainment. The clean lighting by Harriet Patten-Chatfield and Sally McCain was in full support of the story and achieved the difficult goal of keeping action focused in the Scenic Stage. I would say that the choice of music for the transition scenes was slightly bizarre but it in no way hampered the experience of seeing Turcaret.
I have to admit that the cynical ex-theatre student in me wanted to hate Turcaret. But how could I? It’s just so much fun. There’s just the one performance left on Saturday, what better way to spend it in these stressful times than with the inhabitants of Turcaret’s Paris.
Turcaret by Alain-Rene Lesage, performing at the Scenic Stage Theatre in the University of York Theatre, Film and Television Dept. at 7:30pm tonight Friday the 10th, and 2:30pm tomorrow afternoon Saturday the 11th. Tickets available at the box office and online (£5/8).