Thanks to the National’s blockbuster ‘Servant of Two Masters’ remake ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, it’s been a good year for knowing adaptations of commedia dell’arte classics.
This English Touring Theatre version of Moliere’s controversial smash about a manipulative charlatan is more restrained than the NT’s tour de force. But in some ways it’s an equally striking makeover, thanks to Roger McGough’s lugubrious verse translation.
It’s both a strength and weakness of Gemma Bodinetz’s production that everybody – bar Colin Tierney’s shifty-eyed Tartuffe, who talks in uncouth prose – sounds like a bit of the same McGough poem. Which is what they are, in a sense, but the voices are so overwhelmingly McGough-ish that the characters lose a certain amount of definition.
It’s forgivable, though, because the upside is that this ‘Tartuffe’ is heaving with understatedly killer lines – ‘What is it about this interloper/that makes you commit faux pas after faux pas?’ was a personal favourite, and there’s a genius running joke about the French characters pretentiously misquoting English proverbs.
The drollness of the text and arch exuberance of Bodinetz’s production make for a slightly awkward match at times, but it builds up an impressive head of steam, and the glee with which the cast chomp into their lines is evident and infectious.