Liz Lochhead's Scots translation of Molière's Tartuffe may be 20 years old but it has aged remarkably well, its dazzling barrage of rhyming couplets still capturing the essence of Molière's idiosyncratic verse - a notoriously tricky task. There are a few worn edges, the style now familiar from its pretenders, but this adaptation's flurry of expertly assembled clichés, delight in the rhythms and sounds of the Scots language, and brash linguistic liberty make for a swift couple of hours.
Tartuffe is a parasite, a vengeful hypocrite who trumpets his own dubious piety to install himself in the home of the rich Orgon, who is all too willing to hand over the key to his home and family. The action is deftly handled by the director Tony Cownie, who manages to keep Molière's condemnation of the false idols of power and assumed piety fresh and edgy.
"What a big ham," says Dorine, the gabble-mouthed servant, of Tartuffe and his feigned piety. And a distinctly whiffy ham at that. Indeed, you almost wonder at his unmasking when Molière and Lochhead show no less derision for the rest of the cast, from the sanctimonious if rational Cléante, the voice of reason who nonetheless usually has the solution after the fact, to the dour preachings of Orgon's mother Pernelle, who refuses to see Tartuffe's treachery. "You should'nae judge by appearances," she admonishes, hypocritically.
But appearances are all-important in a world where wealth has been gained swiftly. Steven McNicoll's Orgon is a blustering, impressionable fool, nouveau-riche stamped all over his tweedy outfit and his acquisition of an upmarket wife - an excellently arch Jennifer Black. Pushing caricature and slapstick to the limit, McNicoll drives home Orgon's blind cruelty.
Felled in the end by Lewis Howden's sneering lawman, Kenneth Bryans's Tartuffe is odiously invidious, intractably callous and menacing, and yet, as he curls into a perhaps-familiar ball on the floor, manages to invoke some sympathy for a man who has himself become victim - perhaps not for the first time - of an even greater source of machinating power than himself.
Until 11 February (0131-248 4848; www.lyceum.org.uk)Reuse content