Would you invite a perfect stranger into your home and make him free of all your possessions to the extent of disinheriting your son in his favour? It's not as far-fetched a situation as it might at first appear.
The con man and his victim have been with us since mankind first began living in communities. Over the centuries, the nature of the swindle has of necessity, changed its skin; the skeleton has not.
The so-called Nigerian Internet scam comes from the same bloodline as the medieval fake alchemist coating lead with a thin gilt layer, pretending to have found the secret of transmuting base metals to gold. As is the charismatic lifestyle specialist who offers a panacea for our physical, emotional or spiritual sterility.
Molière's play Le Tartuffe concerns a con man of the Counter Reformation. Shôn Dale-Jones in The Impostor - under which title Molière hoped to negate the ban on his original play - makes him a sort of spiritual guru, invited home by Edward Armstrong with the inevitable consequences.
Hoipolloi is a theatre company which exploits the physical aspects of staging. So we have a sort of play within a play, into which the audience is drawn from the moment it enters the auditorium. If there are knockabout elements derived from the commedia dell'arte, there is also something much darker, more primitive; a ferocity which is much more Petruska than Pulcinella.
Trond-Erik Vassdal dominates as the double-dealing con man from his first appearance, creeping as it were out of time itself onto centre stage. The frenetic attempts of Edward's wife, daughter and son to disabuse and help him are neatly characterised by Jill Norman, Stephanie Müller and Ben Frimston. Andrew Pembroke is Edward, victim as much of his own weakness as of other people's strength.
The design team (Müller again, with Adam Cork and Katharine Williams) give us a setting with a life of its own as well as sound and lighting to match. I think Molière would have approved, though he might have sighed over how little humanity has changed in three and a half centuries.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at Watford Palace Theatre)