Tartuffe, Playhouse, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

It seems an inadequate response to Roger McGough's brilliant adaptation of Tartuffe to deliver this review in prose. In a happy marriage between Mersey poet and Molière, the French playwright's gallery of society portraits is given a fresh yet remarkably faithful perspective.

McGough demonstrates a finely tuned ear for the rhythms of dialogue and the flavour of patois (with scarcely a trace of Scouse), and jargon. The result is tart but never tough. The flow of Molière's razor-sharp dialogue is newly sprinkled with everyday expressions and allusions, including a reference even to The Priory. In their zest and wit, McGough's lines, sometimes deliciously set up, at other times sprung on us with a mischievous artlessness, set a cracking pace.

Neither here, nor in the play's swirl of comic escapades, does the cast falter. Gemma Bodinetz's flawless production, as light as any soufflé, sees to that. The tale, in which Tartuffe's religious hypocrisy is fanned by Orgon's blinkered bourgeois fervour, is played out within another fine set by Ruari Murchison – a grand hall, with burnished mirror panelling and backlit windows. With no spectacular set changes, the focus is on the characters and their play with words.

Joseph Alessi's Orgon is less the patriarchal tyrant than a decent man in the grip of an obsession, shared only by his mother (Eithne Browne, best known as Chrissie, a somewhat different mother, in Brookside).

Not until everyone in the household has expressed their opinion of Tartuffe does John Ramm's grubby, oleaginous Tartuffe finally appear. Disgusting, oozing snake-like charm and viperous intentions, this lust-crazed charlatan clings absurdly to the pretensions of his character. His exposure as a lecher is pure farce, but not achieved so fast by Rebecca Lacey's Elmire as to detract from Tartuffe's caution. The entire household is brought to life, from Annabelle Dowler's perky maid and Kevin Harvey's comically assured Valère to Simon Coates's Cléante, dry of wit and droll in delivery.

There's no lack of audacity in this colourful depiction of Molière's characters, variously deluded, affronted, cheated or taken advantage of. A smidgeon of anger and pain lurks beneath the laughs, rightly, and Bodinetz keeps the last one up her sleeve until the final few minutes, producing a coup de théâtre that takes a very funny evening to a new level.



To 31 May (0151-709 4776), then at the Rose Theatre, Kingston (0871 230 1552), 4 to 14 June

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