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Review: Tartuffe/Liverpool Playhouse

Heather Smith falls for Roger McGough's well versed comedy

Written by . Published on September 14th 2011.

Review: Tartuffe/Liverpool Playhouse

THERE'S no shortage of unpleasant terms to describe Tartuffe. Roach, wretch, Godforsaken codpiece is to list but a few condemnations of his character. Nobody, however, seems to have a bad word to say about Tartuffe, the play.

I was swept away, my weakness for words, wit
and irreverence getting the better of me. It’s
true, Tartuffe is a cracking piece of theatre

Moliere’s satirical 17th

century comedy - remastered by Roger “king-of-the-couplets” McGough - was something of a theatre highlight in 2008. Commissioned by the Everyman and Playhouse, Tartuffe went on a national run with the English Touring Theatre and everybody loved it, almost sickeningly so.

(Click here to add text)(Click here to add text)Three years on – and featuring most of the original cast - it is back for pretty much a repeat performance and undoubtedly a repeat, too, of the rave reviews.

Watching the great and the good of Liverpool cosy into their seats at the Playhouse last night, I had every intention of being critical. Surely there would be something to find fault with.

But, alas, the regal red drapes had barely been lifted and I was swept away, my weakness for words, wit and irreverence getting the better of me.

It’s true, Tartuffe is a cracking piece of theatre.

For a start, the script is brilliant. In that loveable McGough charm, it is tight but breezy, detailed yet fleeting, razor sharp and gentle all at the same time. Plus, it’s really bloody funny.

Tartuffe (Colin Tierney) cons his way into the home and fortune of hapless Orgon (Joseph Alessi). Everyone but Orgon and Madame Pernell (Eithne Brown) know that he is a fraud from the off, the hilarity comes from unravelling the hypocrisy.

Colin TierneyColin TierneyThe rhymes flow sometimes unbelievably; in a word/merde, dance/romance, tongue/along and (my personal favourite) sovereign/bothering. There must be a case for abandoning “leaden prose” altogether: poetry is much cheerier and wouldn’t life be more fun?

What makes Tartuffe so enjoyable is the characters, all well-developed and, given a unique colour through costume (Jacquie Davies), it’s impossible to pick a favourite.

Dorine (Annabelle Dowler) shines as the expressive maid in rust. Mariane (Emily Pithon) is all high-pitched and fussy in yellow. Damis (Ilan Goodman) is comically camp and sporting a cracking pair of purple, thigh-high boots. All deserve a mention for their part in bringing down the farce.

It’s not all about the Roger Factor, either. Gemma Bodintez has directed this delightfully. Her movements ooze out of all 10 characters to the point where you feel as though she is on the stage too, but not in a distracting way.

Emily Pithon and Annabelle DowlerEmily Pithon and Annabelle DowlerTartuffe could be ridiculous and potentially a bit annoying if overacted, but there is an element of restraint shown here which keeps the focus on the script and therefore keeps the whole thing smart. At one point Tartuffe himself reduced the audience to sheer belly laughs by moving only his eyes and eyebrows.

When I spoke to Roger McGough afterwards, I asked if it was strange to watch his words come to life. He said it was, but in a good way. Referring to the funniest scene featuring Tartuffe in distasteful undergarments, he said: “If I’d have known about the bare buttocks, I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to get the words.”

Tartuffe is a meeting of minds. Great vocabulary with restrained but effective physicality.


*Tartuffe is at the Liverpool Playhouse until September 17

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Peter Coyle

i wish i had been there…it sounds like something joyous and anarchic...the way the article is…

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Couldn't agree more. This is a super piece. Ken would be proud that not a penny of public money was…

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Reader Xxx

The review was indeed brilliant - congratulations Angie. The show must have been very special -…

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Claudia Boulton

Thanks Angie for your brilliant piece, so glad you wrote it! Now i know what was going on! Being in…

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