Review: Tartuffe, Northern Stage, Newcastle, until Saturday

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TARTUFFE is a 17th century impostor and, posing as a devout Christian of moral virtue, has conned his way into a bourgeois French family with the intention of seducing the women and stealing their wealth.

It’s a one-set play and Ruari Murchison’s design, based on the mirrored hall of the Palace of Versailles, looks stunning.

This must have been quite a revolutionary piece in 1664 when Moliere poked fun at the ruling elite about their hypocritical religious morals and fidelity.

It also gives an early insight into farce, as there are misunderstandings, comings and goings through three doors, eavesdropping and slapstick.

Done well this is still a cracking piece of entertainment.

This version, by the English Touring Theatre, is an adaptation by the popular Liverpool poet Roger McGough, who has transformed the prose into rhyming couplets, and for me has taken the sting out of the highly-satirical piece.

Director Gemma Bodinetz plays this as part farce, part pantomime, but it’s neither funny enough for a farce except the hilarious scene in which a half-naked Tartuffe (Colin Tierney) is attempting to seduce Elmire (Rebecca Lacey), nor were these actors experienced enough at playing pantomime comedy (an art in itself).

Not that the cast of 10 weren’t first rate. Quite the opposite, but something was lacking in the production itself.

The first half came in at an hour and 10 minutes, but the plot is so flimsy – everyone in the family knows Tartuffe is an interloper except the father Orgon (Joseph Alessi) and his mother, Madame Pernelle (Eithne Browne) – that it overstayed its welcome by at least 20 minutes.

The second half is better (and shorter) as more happens, but the nature of this version was cod-pantomime instead of being comedic with a bit of edge.