Tartuffe at The Tobacco Factory Theatre, Raleigh Road, Southville, Bristol.

Review by Jayne Bennett

THERE are few pieces of theatre that can truly be described as ‘timeless’, but the essence of Moliere’s Tartuffe stretches far beyond the 17th century sensitivities of its day - especially when it’s given the Stf treatment.

In reality, this modernised version of Tartuffe created by Andrew Hilton and Dominic Power bears little resemblance to the original, but it still has the power to have the audience in stitches.

There is actually very little that connects this playful tale to that of Moliere, and the set, costumes, and modern references could all be a scene from a very different play.

The language in particular offers a radical reinvention of the original test – but would Moliere be spinning in his grave? Probably not.

Three and a half centuries is a long time in any language, but to the English ear the 10 syllable pentameter resonates far easier than the 12 syllable-line Alexandrines used by Moliere used, especially when allowed a certain freedom to roam.

At times this can seem a little laboured, but if you are aiming for an adaptation ‘after’ Moliere, you don’t need to step directly in his footsteps, and the rhyming couplets are witty and modern.

In an era of ‘alternative truths’, Mark Meadows’ swindling Tartuffe is beguiling.

Instead of putting religion in the spotlight, this version of Tartuffe uses the most base desires of greed and lust to try and con an MP, superbly played by Christopher Bianci, out of his home (and, indeed every woman in the house out of their knickers!).

The action in a Hampstead townhouse, centres around the gullible MP who has been taken in by Tartuffe, who is, essentially, a con man. And as political satire the story works surprisingly well.

The cast is unsurprisingly outstanding, with many familiar faces returning to the Tobacco Factory stage, from Saskia Portway, who plays the politician’s wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, to Alan Coveney, the over-the-top tabloid hack who has the power to break the family with gratuitous stories of ill behaviour thanks to Tartuffe’s duplicity.

It’s not particularly subtle, but that really is in the true spirit of Moliere, and mocking middle class affectations is always going to cause a few guffaws.

This is Andrew Hilton’s final offering as artistic director of Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory, and it is a magnificent swansong. He will be missed.

  • Tartuffe continues at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday, May 6. Visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/tartuffe and stf-theatre.org.uk/tartuffe for tickets and more information.