A laugh-filled evening with Tartuffe

Review: Tartuffe, by Roger McGough, adapted from Moliere, New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday October 29

If someone suggested to you that the most enjoyable way of spending an evening would be watching a 17th century French play about the evils of the church and its cynical manipulation of the effete ruling classes, you would be forgiven for feeling sceptical. But, you would be wrong.

Roger McGough’s vibrant reworking of this classic French comedy left me helpless with laughter. The dialogue, delivered in verse, is both clever, funny and at times plays with some deliberately bad, groan-inducing rhymes.

It has the fast-paced appeal of a classic farce with the bite of a satire. The laughs come easily but there are moments when Moliere and McGough choose to aim some well-directed arrows at war and religion, how it is justified and its effects on the people.

But, this is treated almost as an aside. It helps give weight to the on stage antics but doesn’t distract from the fun.

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For those who don’t know the story. Tartuffe is a Rasputin-style religious figure. He advocates the sackcloth and ashes, the self-denial forms of worship and swiftly attaches himself to the household of an overly gullible nobleman. Soon he is not only influencing how the house is run, he has alienated the rest of the family.

However, Tartuffe’s pious approach to living is not without some self-justified carnal desires and not satisfied with arranging a marriage with the nobleman’s teenage daughter, is also soon chasing his wife.

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Roger McGough, Britain’s patron saint of poets, has huge fun with this, his second venture into the world of Moliere. He and the English Touring Theatre did an equally spectacular job with Moliere’s The Hypochondriac last year.

The dialogue is delivered at breakneck speed but is also clear as a bell. The action is fast and larger-than-life, exaggerated for comic effect and by the end of the evening both actors and audience are happily exhausted by the glorious fun of it all. The cast were uniformly excellent but Annabelle Dowler deserves to be singled-out for her spirited portrayal of the self-assured maid Dorine – the only the person with her head screwed on right and the character who guides the audience through the mayhem.

For the rest of this week Suffolk audiences have a choice. Stay in and watch the news with its dismal stories of economic downturns and backbench revolts or escape to the theatre and see possibly the funniest show of the year. Perfect for families looking for an end of half-term treat.

Andrew Clarke

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