This new version of Tartuffe presented by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory (stf) is a very loose and highly contemporised adaption of Molière’s play by writers Andrew Hilton and Dominic Power.
In this reinvention, Tartuffe (Mark Meadows) is a 21st-century cultural icon: a super-successful tech entrepreneur who’s given it all up for charity, with a dedication to Eastern mysticism and a best-selling misery memoir. He has completely enchanted Charles Ogden (Chris Bianchi), a mediocre MP compensating for his mid-life crisis by prostrating himself utterly before Tartuffe’s pick-and-mix philosophies, to the horror of his wife and children. As Ogden enters an increasingly destructive spiral of devotion, his family struggle to stop him from gifting all his wealth to the charlatan impostor.
Whilst the script’s cultural references and social mores are firmly embedded in 2017, it blends modern language with a rhyming scheme that nods to Moliere’s original alexandrines. Although this can sometimes sound a little forced, the semi-poetic script allows for some clever wordplay and lends a pace to the dialogue which enhances the black comedy.
And pace is one thing this production certainly has. Confidently delivered across the board – with standout performances by Bianchi, Meadows and Anna Elijasz as feisty Polish housekeeper Danuta – the cast manage to maintain bite and edge in what could so easily slip into cheap cartoon farce. There is convincing depth to the characters as they are buffeted by events which at times verge on the slapstick.
For all its 17th century French roots, this Tartuffe can undoubtedly stand comfortably alongside any modern British comedy. It is in no way highbrow, academic or ‘worthy’: it’s simply entertaining, touching and makes you laugh a lot. That’s really all you need for a good night at the theatre.
This is the final production by stf founder and artistic director Andrew Hilton. His distinctive and purist approach to staging Shakespeare, focusing on delivering the text with clarity and simplicity and as few directorial bells and whistles as possible, has made stf a local and national institution and has (re)ignited a love of Shakespeare in many audience members of the years. His contribution to Bristol’s theatre scene over the past 18 years should be celebrated, and will be missed.