Moliere’s 1962 lines of comedic verse has been immaculately sliced by former National Poet of Scotland, Liz Lochhead, into a dirty Scottish one-act quickie starring a quartet of Scotland’s finest, and the result, as the Scots would say, is ‘pure dead brilliant’.
While the design of a sheep’s attire changes with the times, the notion of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is timeless. Moliere’s Tartuffe, or The Imposter, is as relevant to the age of #metoo and virtue-signalling social media wellness gurus as it was when suppressed by King Louis XIV following its 1664 premiere in Versailles.
Lochhead’s adaptation, under the helm of comic-actor-turned-director Tony Cownie, has been transplanted from the Parisian lush ante-chambers of the 1660s to a homely Scottish living room of the 1940s; still a time when the master of the house was to be obeyed, men of faith were to be revered, and women were to marry who they were told.
While Moliere’s cast of characters has been reduced from more than a dozen to four, and his French rhyming couplets have been rephrased in the Scots’ dialect, this truncated rendition still hits all the beats of the original.
For an Australian audience, the Scots’ dialect sits in an uneasy territory; it is almost entirely discernible to the native English speaker, and, for those of Anglo-Saxon ancestry, the language is perhaps buried somewhere deep in the DNA. The surtitles provided, though, are a relief, but also a partial distraction from the fine comedic characterisations on display.
Harry Ward, a new addition to the cast, as the hapless Orgon, is suitably pitiful and inept, as he was slowly guided towards reason by the fiery and lusty Nicola Roy as Elmire and Joyce Falconer as the wise and forthright maid Dorine.
The fate of the play, though, like the fate of the Orgon household, depends upon the wily and duplicitous manipulator, the spiritual narcissist Tartuffe, played by Andy Clark, who returns to Holden Street and the Adelaide Fringe after an eight-year absence. Clark, like a certified sociopath, effortlessly transforms from pleading succubus to striking serpent when the occasion suits. His menace when in the ascendency, when his plot has ripened, is fearful.
Moliere’s Tartuffe by Liz Lochhead is an ideal introduction to the work, or alternatively, a worthy addition to the catalogue of adaptations. This production is no imposter, it is the real deal.
Reviewed performance: 12 February 2020