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Tartuffe review at Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol – ‘a rollicking Moliere update’

Mark Meadows in Tartuffe at Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol. Photo: Craig Fuller
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When Moliere`s 17th century satirical masterpiece, Tartuffe, was premiered at the Palace of Versailles, critics were appalled by his depiction of religious hypocrisy. It was repeatedly banned.

Now Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory artistic director Andrew Hilton, along with long-time collaborator Dominic Power, have fast-forwarded the action to present-day London in a rollicking attack on gullibility among the upper crust, rather than just a cheap shot at religion.

The play`s innocent-abroad victim Orgon is here transformed into the easily-duped government minister Charles Ogden, played in Yes Minister mode by Christopher Bianchi, who is hoodwinked into bequeathing his family fortune – and almost his wife and daughter – to Mark Meadows` chameleon-like charlatan Tartuffe.

Anna Elijasz`s inventive Polish maidservant Danuta sets out to expose the villain`s duplicity. She is ably assisted by Ogden`s wife Emma, played with considered elegance by Saskia Portway, whose pretence at encouraging Tartuffe`s unwanted advances is one of the more subtle aspects of a largely broad and at times bawdy fuselage of gripe shot at the foibles of society.

Designer Sarah Warren`s 2017 Hampstead Garden Suburb set relies largely on a stylish green leather chesterfield and a modern Yamaha piano to reflect a well-off London home, the copy of Wisden on the piano lid a particularly nice touch.

Written in witty rhyming couplets at times flowing seamlessly from one character to another, the narrative is rather slow to start and often mocking in tone, but it never descends into pantomime (unlike some recent Moliere reworkings) and Hilton and Power continually hint at Moliere`s insight into the power of ideology to destroy lives.

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Moliere`s most famous play transformed into an entertaining modern day parable