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Theatre Review: Nice and sleazy




PETE LAWSON'S The Impostor is a reworking of Moliere's much-banned Tartuffe, substituting New Labour ducking and diving for the original attack on religious hypocrisy, and transporting the time and place from 17th-century France to present-day Bolton. Lawson's text is "all governments are sleazy", which he promotes by using Moliere's original characters and relentless rhyming. Yes, it is a well-sustained attack on New Labour, the betrayal of transparent whiter-than-white for presentation forged in darkness.

The Impostor is a smart piece of work, clever in conception and execution under Jennie Darnell's direction, with smart, state-of-the-art decoration in Matthew Wright's painfully contemporary-shiny Home Office set. It's also smart enough to be able to update the dialogue to include references to impeachment, Clapham Common and large donations to political parties from self-interested businessmen.

In sticking to the original model, Lawson has lumbered himself with 10 characters, some of whom make only fleeting appearances and seem to confuse and detract from the main strands of the plot. The central character, Tartuffe, bears a strong resemblance to Peter Mandelson, or maybe an amalgam of discredited figures. Ann Widdecombe's famous description of Michael Howard - "There is something of the night about him" - is tossed in just to put us off the scent.

In terms of political satire, The Impostor hits its targets well enough. Yet the attack is hardly savage, more a sorrowful head-shaking over such transgressions from an old and trusted friend. Or maybe it's just an acceptance of the fact that governments have unseen workings as well as the puppet strings that are on view. Acceptance is more dangerous than indignation.

The large cast - for a studio production - perform at a lick. Fred Ridgeway as Orgon, the archetypal northern businessman prepared to put down real brass to become mayor, becomes the more and more perplexed pivot of the farcical proceedings. Dermot Kerrigan's Tartuffe - a hypocrite right down to his underpants, prepared to justify anything unseemly in an insurance salesman's suit - carries off the self-righteous, sunny optimism of the character. In true political farce style he is caught, literally, with his pants down. Elmire, given the task of seducing Tartuffe in order to expose him, is played by Kim Thompson who handles French farce at its trickiest. The ending is from the with-one-bound-Jack-was-free school, but the audience went away happy.

To 6 March (01752 267222)