Review: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2020: TARTUFFE at The Arch, Holden Street Theatres

By: Feb. 13, 2020

Review: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2020: TARTUFFE at The Arch, Holden Street Theatres Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 12th February 2020.

Poet and playwright, Liz Lochhead, has taken Molière's play, Tartuffe, reduced it to four characters from her own earlier full-cast Scottish language adaptation, shortened it to a snappy one-act play in rhyming couplets, and transferred it to a Scottish living room in the 1940s. This very funny production is directed by Tony Cownie. Playing safe, there are surtitles to assist those who have difficulties with the broad Scots accents and smattering of Gaelic words. First performed in 1664, Molière's comedy of manners is as fresh and funny now, in the hands of this group, as it no doubt was back then.

Tartuffe is an imposter, a con artist who has inveigled his way into the home of Orgon by feigning piety. Orgon has been completely taken in by Tartuffe's guiles, and holds him up as a shining example for his family to emulate. He has even arranged for Tartuffe to marry his daughter, Mariane, to seal his connection to the family. Although Mariane does not appear, her crying for the imminent loss of her true love, Valère, can be heard in the distance as the play opens. Dorine, Mariane's maid, and Elmire, Orgon's second wife, think otherwise, and set about exposing the hypocrite.

Joyce Falconer plays Dorine, the source of much of the comedy and the character who fulfils the role of the narrator. Dorine is the first to appear and sets the scene for all that is to follow, as well as filling in the gaps where the numerous other characters would have appeared. Falconer is simply hilarious in the role, saying as much with her body language and facial expressions as her dialogue.

Orgon is played by Andy Clark, who creates a wonderfully foolish and bombastic character, providing a great many laughs in every scene. He is remarkably adept at displaying Orgon's devotion to Tartuffe and refusal to accept the truth, hilariously falling apart when denial is no longer possible.

Nicola Roy is perfectly cast as his wife, Elmire, poised and elegant, the object of Tartuffe's lust and, unfortunately for him, intelligent enough to see through his deception and clever enough to outwit him and bring about his downfall. She invests her character with all of the attributes that Elmire requires, as well as providing marvellously timed humour.

Harry Ward is marvellous as the conniving charlatan, Tartuffe, giving us a devious snake oil salesman with an absence of morals. There is a strong temptation to hiss and boo and this crafty villain in the great tradition of melodrama, which only ever seems a hair's breadth away from this farce.

This is a good, old-fashioned comedy in which the villain eventually gets his comeuppance. Be sure to put this one on your list of Fringe productions to see this year.

Although the Fringe itself is not curated, the Holden Street Fringe hub, under the control of Martha Lott, is filled with carefully selected local, interstate, and overseas productions, some award winners from the Edinburgh Fringe, ensuring high-quality performances, of which this is one. At the media day, today, Adelaide critics were given the opportunity to see previews of three of works that open on Friday, the official start of the Fringe. Lott, a recipient of an Adelaide Critics Circle Award, will also be appearing in the second season of her critically acclaimed production, Grounded, which sold out in 2019.

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