Roger McGoughs new version of Molieres play isnt so much a translation as a completely new entity. He has taken the bones of the story and fleshed it out with fresh rhymes that are full of modern references.
Originally staged in Liverpool as part of their Capital of Culture festivities, this is a broad, amusing and accessible production.
To his familys intense confusion and displeasure, the wealthy merchant Orgon has welcomed the purportedly pious Tartuffe into his home and heart. This man, if Orgon is to be believed, is a paragon of goodness, incapable of doing wrong – why he even weeps at his accidental killing of bee and then gives it a good Christian burial.
His family remain unconvinced. They see Tartuffe as a trickster and a fraud, an interloper out for what he can get. But Tartuffe has his feet well and truly under Orgons table, and there is simply no telling the man, he will not hear a word said against him. Even when Tartuffe tries it on with Orgons wife, lustily rubbing her thigh and grinding himself up against her, Orgon refuses to believe in his deceit, he would rather disinherit his own son then countenance the fact that Tartuffe is anything less than pure.
The man in question only appears after the entire household (including the straight-talking maid Dorine, blessed with more common sense than the lot of them) have all given their opinions on the matter. As played by John Ramm, Tartuffe is a sweaty lecher toting a cross the size of a small child, a St Francis figure in need of a cold shower or three. Though he regularly drops to his knees in prayer, hands outstretched toward heaven, or mutters away in Latin, one eye is always on his audience, keen that his virtue is observed. But the minute Orgon is out of sight, he turns into a thrusting, smarmy animal, all groin and tongue. Quite how anyone could fall for his deceit it is difficult to tell.
Its an unsubtle performance but then subtlety is not the currency of Gemma Bodinetzs production. So the randy Ramm is well matched by Annabelle Dowlers forever exasperated Dorine, Rebbecca Laceys mostly composed Elmire and by Kevin Harvey, who as Valere, the paramour of Orgons daughter, seems at times almost itchy with lust. Joseph Allessi, meanwhile, plays Orgon as a fundamentally decent but gullible man, blind to Tartuffes manipulations.
The scenes of Tartuffes inevitable exposure are played as out and out farce, broad as can be, with people hiding in cupboards and chests, with doors that are opened and slammed at regular intervals; Elmire even gets chased round the room, Benny Hill fashion, by a desire-consumed Tartuffe, alarmingly stripped down to his grubby undergarments.
Liverpool poet McGoughs version of the text does its job well; there are some nice recurring jokes and it makes a virtue of its ropier rhymes, playing them for laughs. He even manages to inject some contemporary resonance into the material, condemning not religion itself but those who use religion for their own ends, who use God for their own agenda and mete out vengeance with a consecrated sword. The production is solid rather than spectacular but is consistently entertaining, well played throughout and has an undeniable charm.