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Tartuffe (Liverpool & tour)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Liverpool Playhouse

Where: Liverpool

Never has the need of a critic been more unnecessary than it is at the Liverpool Playhouse right now. As superfluous as a chocolate tea cosy, we sit and wait to find something worthy of whinging about and find nothing. In Tartuffe we are witnessing theatrical genius as, from the moment the strains of an unseen harpsichord halt and the curtain lifts, the audience buckle themselves in for a roller-coaster ride of fun, beautiful language and, above all, perfect acting.

The set, a wooden and glass drawing room that deserves an ovation on its own, is light and spacey enough for all of the cast to use it to the full and take it to extremes at every turn. The lighting is used to add atmosphere where necessary and the music adds a charm of its own.

But it is the dialogue - taken from a translation of Molière’s classic text - the direction and the acting that must take precedence here. Roger McGough has taken a play concerning courtly manners and added a light and dexterity to it that is mind boggling in its ingeniousness, leaving Gemma Bodinetz, the director, to embolden everything with visual gags and pace aplenty so that, at times, it’s almost like watching a cartoon made real.

As for the cast, every one of them is impeccable, although it is Anabelle Dowler – who as the mouthy-maid, Dorine, is barely off stage and must sink into exhaustion afterwards – Rebecca Lacey, John Alessi and John Ramm, a hideously charming Tartuffe, who must take full praise, as we in the audience try in vain to write down lines that come at motorway speeds and with such faultless delivery.

Excellent too, it has to be said, are Kevin Harvey as the smitten Valere, Emily Pithon as his dipsy love, Mariane, and Robert Hastie as Orgon’s embattled son, Damis. Eithne Browne is quite simply glorious as the domineering Madame Pernelle – who rules the house with a rod of iron, yet fails to see the flaws in the man she sees as Saintly – and Simon Coates’s Cleante, Orgon’s brother-in-law, is simply a joy to watch and listen to.

In short, and to paraphrase M&S, this is not just theatre, this is Liverpool Playhouse theatre and everybody involved should be rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. Never have I felt so underused and never have I felt so pleased to admit it but, genuinely, the need of a critic here is quite unnecessary.

There is nothing whatsoever to criticise and Tartuffe is a quite perfect, solid gold night of theatrical entertainment.

-Chris High


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