MOLIERE’S comedy Tartuffe, a savage satire on the hypocrisy of France in 1664, has been successfully updated many times over the years – it’s always relevant as are all classic plays.
It has been chosen by Andrew Hilton as his final show as artistic director of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, the company he founded 18 years ago. And it’s a stunning farewell from the man who has been at the helm of so many memorable productions on the former cigar packing floor at the factory in Bedminster.
Updated by Andrew and his regular collaborator Dominic Power to 2017, it brings the story of MP Charles Ogden and his family into Hampstead Garden Suburb. Charles, a well-meaning but bumbling Tory, lives with second wife Emma and his two children Mel and Daniel in a house run by Polish astro physics graduate Danuta – the housekeeper.
He has installed his new “friend” Tartuffe, a self-help guru who has apparently made his money in an improbable scheme involving mobile phones in Nepal, who has written a best-selling memoir of a lamentable and poverty-stricken childhood and who is about to set up a charity.
This self-obsessed, greedy, hypocritical, lascivious, lazy sponger is about to deliver the coup de dis-grace, relieving his host of money, home and position.
What happens next sometimes follows Moliere’s original and sometimes doesn’t . The new version is written in rhyming couplets that shamelessly pair words of excruciating hilarity. The characters include a Conservative Grande Dame, a parliamentary sketch-writer, a tabloid hack of the most sentimentally lurid variety and a young black lawyer.
The script is full of up-to-the-minute references, and the ending not quite what you might expect. It is sparklingly performed by a cast of ten SatTF favourites and newcomers, led by Mark Meadows in the title role, relishing every change of mood and heaping on the new-age tripe.
Saskia Portway is Emma with the elegant Christopher Bianchi as the unfortunate Ogden and Tina Gray as his indomitable mother. Anna Elijasz, who trained in Poland and London, is the spirited Danuta, she who saves the day as Moliere’s servants so often do.
The programme has a nice page of references to Undue Influence, which became even MORE relevant after the opening of the play. It runs at the Bristol venue until 6th May. Don’t miss it.
Footnote : When SatTF returns in 2018, its slot will move from the traditional February-May to a season starting in September. Watch for more details