TARTUFFE by Nine Years Theatre

“Oh my fraud”

Reviewer: Walter Chan
Performance: 7 February 2015, 3pm

A well-calibrated and charming piece that shows off Molière’s softer side.

Tartuffe features (clockwise from left): Jalyn Han, Mia Chee, Neo Hai Bin, Koh Wan Ching, Darius Tan, Hang Qian Chou and Jean Toh. Photo credit: Nine Years Theatre.

Tartuffe features (clockwise from left): Jalyn Han, Mia Chee, Neo Hai Bin, Koh Wan Ching, Darius Tan, Hang Qian Chou and Jean Toh. Photo credit: Nine Years Theatre.

“A sin that no one knows is no sin,” quips the artfully pious conman, Tartuffe, in the middle of the play, as he reveals his true wickedness for the first time.

Moments later, he is caught with his pants down (yes, literally).

Nine Years Theatre returns with an adaptation of Molière’s comedy, Tartuffe. Translated into Mandarin and also directed by Nelson Chia, the original storyline is kept largely intact: The master of the house, Orgon, idolises Tartuffe and is completely taken in by his false religiosity, while the rest of Orgon’s family see right through Tartuffe’s deception, and are unable to persuade Orgon otherwise.

Of course, there are always implications when you perform Molière in Mandarin. For one, you are performing a French play in Mandarin.

Let me repeat myself one more time: A French play – in Mandarin! (A surprisingly blatant fact that other reviewers fail to grasp time and again.)

The comedy is therefore of a slower pace than the original, but not once did it lose its momentum, thanks to the cast’s solid performance. In fact, Tartuffe is so well-calibrated that the comedy actually feels relaxed and natural. If you think Molière is devoid of nuance, this performance will change your mind; Chia may have outdone himself here, in this refreshing rework of Tartuffe.

In addition, Chia astutely dispenses with attempting a realist depiction of a period French household. The bare-bones set is reminiscent of last year’s Art and An Enemy of the People, with no curtains to hide the wings. This foregrounds the theme of exposing façades. Chia mentions in the post-show dialogue that by highlighting the constructedness of the performance onstage, he wants the audience to “discuss art, not just consume it”.

Tartuffe certainly creates enough room for discussion: ardent idolatry of false prophets, the fervour of outward religiosity, even the deus ex machina preserved from the original script to end the play. While some may be left scratching their heads over the ending, perhaps even feeling dissatisfied, I feel this misses the whole point of the play – which is to ask more questions.

There is a trademark pedigree associated with Nine Years Theatre, and this stems in no small part from their rigorous actor training. Director Nelson Chia, too, has consistently demonstrated a knack for adapting foreign classics to the local stage. Even more challenging is the fact that he translates the plays himself, to be performed in Mandarin. Nevertheless, the dramatic integrity of the script is maintained without sacrificing the quality of the performance.

Whatever it is, I’m definitely looking forward to the next Nine Years Theatre offering.


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TARTUFFE by Nine Years Theatre
4 – 8 February 2015
National Museum Gallery Theatre


Walter Chan has recently starting dabbling in play-writing, most usually writing ‘for fun, but hopes to develop his hobby into something more substantial in the future.