Lochhead adapted Tartuffe for the Scottish stage in the early ’80s, retaining the rhyming couplet form (albeit in broad Scots) but setting it in a post-World War I living room. This latest version (skillfully directed by Tony Cownie) gives the 17th-century play a 21st-century makeover, cutting it down to one act with four characters and zooming in on Lochhead’s original feminist intentions.
Bumbling businessman Orgon (Harry Ward) has got the household “in an awfie guddle”[ii] but as long as his long-suffering wife Elmire (Nicola Roy) and no-nonsense housekeeper Dorine (Joyce Falconer) “stick thegither, (they’ll) sort it oot, nae bother”.[iii]
And sort it out they do. Orgon might be blind to the manipulative machinations of spiritual con-man Tartuffe (a suitably obsequious Andy Clarke) but Elmire and Dorine have got his number. Together they hatch a cunning plan to prise open Orgon’s eyes and stop the smarmy gaslighter in his tracks.
Much of the humour is in the delivery and the five-star cast do a grand job of cranking up the laughs. Falconer and Ward, in particular, bring a touch of clowning genius to their roles, torqueing face and body into eye-wateringly hilarious expressions of their inner emotions. Focus too hard on the surtitles (provided for those struggling with the heavy Scottish accents) and you miss out.
But then dialling down the Scots would also dull the humour. Dorine insisting that the vision of Tartuffe “barescud-naked, steered up guid and proper, hot for houghmagandie”[iv] is something she could look and look at and “still no get randy” wouldn’t be half as funny without the Scots rhyme.
So does it work for an Australian audience? If you’ve a good ear for language and a good eye for fantastic comic acting, you’ll have a braw, bricht, fun-filled nicht, nae bother at a’.[v]
Tartuffe is playing in the Arch, Holden Street Theatres, until March 15.
[i] a jolly good boot up the backside
[ii] a fair old shemozzle
[iii] the women’ll see it right
[iv] 100% unclothed, standing to attention, and eager for action
[v] a bonza night out, easy
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