It’s screamingly funny – not to say (at times) screechingly so. Roger McGough’s adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe is a riot of puns to put Planché and W S Gilbert to the blush, a unique version of franglais (I particularly liked “if hogs might take to the air” as a parallel to “if pigs could fly”) and a rib-cracking selection of rhymes for a high proportion of the couplet formula in which he has cast the dialogue.
Colin Tierney revels in the hypocritical title role – watch his eyes as he kneels front-of-stage to catch just the moment to pounce out of trouble and back into success. But Gemma Bodinetz’s production is not just stylised froth, even though Ruari Murchison confronts us with a swagged drop-curtain as well as an enclosed set consisting of tarnished mirrors and slightly fading gilt. Cléante, the voice of reason and quietly-spoken genuine piety, is given due weight by Simon Coates.
Orgon is the fall-guy par excellence. Joseph Alessi lets himself be wrapped around Tartuffe’s machinations with an almost-sexual fervour that never spreads to his sensible and attractive second wife Elmire (Rebecca Lacey) or his flutteringly naïve children Mariane (Emily Pithon) and Damis (Ilan Goodman).
Eithne Browne stomps across this fracturing family like a bourgeoise variation of Queen Margaret from Richard III and Annabelle Dowler does more than wield a flighty broom as the pertly sensible maid Dorine. One has the feeling that Mariane and her fiancé Valère (Hiran Abeysekera) will need her common-sense in the future, just as much as they do at the present.
The production is three years old, though with cast changes for this new tour. It comes over as fresh and a clever balance between the contrived formalities of 17th century French theatre and the whirligig of a 21st century British stage. It’s bright, it’s funny – and it never allows you to forget that the times are always dangerous, whoever holds power, or seeks it. Like the poor, the hypocrite is always with us, the insinuating impostor with a toe edging into the open doorway.