Roger McGough’s adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe
Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, Tuesday 11th- Saturday 15th October 2011
IT takes a lot to make a 300-strong audience roar with laughter at virtually every line, but that was the feat accomplished by the English Touring Theatre’s production of Tartuffe, which has been adapted by Roger McGough and shows this week at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. The premise of Molière’s play is wonderfully simple: An imposter, Tartuffe, worms his way into an aristocratic French family, beguiling the grandmother and her son. The others, however, are not fooled, and the ensuing action encompasses their calamitous struggle to expose Tartuffe’s trickery.
The performance, in a word, is hilarious. One only wishes that the review could rhyme too. The English Touring Theatre’s actors clearly revel in their roles. McGough’s adaptation of Molière’s classic is composed entirely in rhyming couplets, apart from Tartuffe’s lines, which imbue the play with a drama that is at once flamboyant and fluid. The raucous rhyming script pushes the action along at an energetic pace, with the cast teasing every nuance from McGough’s lines. Annabelle Dowler, who plays interfering housekeeper Dorine, puts in what can only be described as a stonking effort, behaving as a go-between and mediator between the rival sides of the family.
But that’s not to say that the play’s 17th century origins are lost. Just when the characters seem in period, in swoops a quip that brings it bang up to date: as Elmir tricks Tartuffe into ravishing her in a bid to prove his deceit, she begs “I’m lying on my back/ like an open sandwich, a savory snack.” Moments like these are frequent and side-splitting, a roaring audience doing justice to McGough’s flair for encapsulating the sardonic. Cleante, another Dorine-like character with a penchant for delivering pitch-perfect comic wisdom, played by Simon Coates, times his lines beautifully: “What is it about this interloper/ That goads you into faux pas after faux pas?”
Much of the performance’s humour comes from Moliere’s cynicism of religious institutions, a viciously funny current which landed the writer in more than a little hot water during his career. Despite being a favourite of Louis XIV, Molière was often critical of authority, weaving his skepticism through the words of his work. Tartuffe justifies his abhorrent actions with lines such as “I do it purely for heaven and the good of my neighbour”, ironically juxtaposed against his adulterous pursuit of the voluptuous Elmir.
For a play that caused uproar when it was first published, the union of Molière and McGough in Tartuffe now seems wonderfully relevant. There isn’t a review in the world that could do justice to this sparkling play- perhaps a mark of only the very best productions.
This review was published in Exeposé on Monday 24th October 2011.