THEATRE Tartuffe / With Every Beat

Jeffrey Wainwright looks north with the latest offerings at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds
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The Independent Culture
The very first couplet Moliere gives his Tartuffe rhymes discipline and illumine. It compresses brilliantly the impostor's seductive argument that celestial joy can be had only via the scourge and the hair shirt, as well as slyly mocking Orgon and those others so pathetically unable to see the light which would reveal his deceit.

It is the kind of incisiveness a prose translation - even the often elegant version by Christopher Hampton used here - cannot catch, and it is entirely characteristic of the stark clarity of Moliere's ruthless comedy. Aside from the predominantly monochrome way Robert Delamere and his designer Simon Higlett have dressed it, such sharp concentration is mostly missing from this revival. They are busy and inventive in establishing a bourgeois corner of Louis XIV's Paris, but not only do the decorators' ladders of this social climbing add to the clutter that often masks the action, they stand in place of any consistent vision of the play.

Despite being thus distracted, Delamere draws strong performances from an uneven cast. Roger Lloyd Pack's reptilian Tartuffe slithers knowingly along the line of plausibility, and Hugh Ross as his dupe Orgon is painfully anguished as he recognises the destruction his credulity has brought. But it is Paule Constable's lighting, with its oil-paint atmosphere and searching pitilessness for the folly below, that shows best.

Making a drunken vow to break the world record for non-stop drumming - 44 days - would seem to be a particular kind of modern folly, especially since spacey Errol and the work ethic clearly inhabit different astral planes. Problems with his beleaguered partner Hayley and their sick son, supporters at odds with suppressed demons of their own, and the sordid struggle for every charitable penny and petty sponsor, could afford a peek into a diorama of contemporary avidity and betrayal.

But Richard Cameron's new play With Every Beat has nothing of Moliere's balefulness. This is a good-hearted comedy which explores the contradictions of selfishness and altruism surrounding Errol's grungy project, sees it teeter on the edge of disaster, but eventually offers redemption. Cameron's spirit may be too generous, but if the development of his characters can be ponderous, he has time for all of them.

It is hard not to warm to Denzil Kilvington's Errol as he has to be prodded from his nap with a line prop, and impossible not to be moved by Suzanne Hitchmough as Hayley, an exact, sensitive performance free of sentimentality and caricature. Mike Bradwell's direction is admirably careful not to lean on the music but might use it more, especially to fire an underpowered climax. Michael Taylor's re-creation of a pub concert room contributes to the play's homely attention to ordinary life, an attention characteristic of the new work this theatre presents. Avant-garde it isn't, but it does continue the long, honourable tradition of North Country comedy.

'Tartuffe' to 14 Oct (booking: 0161-833 9833); 'With Every Beat' to 14 Oct (booking: 0113 244 2111)