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✭✭✭✭✩    Timelessly funny

St Ninian’s Hall: Mon 13 – Sat 18 April 2015

Energetic, well drilled and mining a rich seam of comedy, Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ production of Tartuffe is cleverly staged and particularly enjoyable.

Molière’s story of hypocritical piety cannot hope to have the impact that saw it banned when first performed, but the story of how the overly righteous Tartuffe has wheedled his way into the house of the rich merchant Orgon can still be thoroughly entertaining.

ETA’s Tartuffe – David McCallum, Suzie Marshall – Photo: John McLinden

The fraud’s machinations as he seeks to marry Orgon’s daughter, seduce his wife and take over the household also contain some timeless observations about human nature.

The version presented here is – perhaps surprsingly – not Liz Lochhead’s now familiar Scots translation, but Roger McGough’s 2008 adaptation. This makes no attempt to bring the setting up to date, so ornate lace-frilled costumes abound. The characters (with the exception of Tartuffe himself) speak in verse, with frequent use of groan-inducing rhymes and running jokes. It is easy to imagine these becoming wearing, so it is a tribute to the skill and lightness of touch on display here that this is never in danger of happening.

The cast manage a clever balancing act, giving due prominence to the rhymes without dwelling on them. Particularly praiseworthy in this regard are Colin McPherson, whose Orgon is extremely funny and all too human, and Suzie Marshall’s maid Dorine, who is notably strong when addressing the audience directly.

There are, however, excellent performances throughout. The scenes when Orgon’s wife Elmire (Lisa Moffat) is trying to trap Tartuffe (Derek Marshall) into seducing her are notable for some tremendous comic timing and well played moments of high farce. Marshall is a joy, suitably monstrous without ever overdoing it.

natural comic gifts

Natasha Klemek and Tim Biglowe, as Orgon’s daughter Mariane and her suitor Valère, successfully play up the comedy of their situation while still making the young lovers sufficiently touching.

Ben Robertson-Petrie also displays some natural comic gifts as Orgon’s hot-headed son Damis, making him appear ludicrous without being unsympathetic.

ETA’s Tartuffe – Jean Anthony, Ben Robertson Petrie, Lisa Moffat Photo John McLinden

David McCallum, as Elmire’s sententious brother Cléante also manages a degree of handkerchief-waving foppishness without sacrificing his essential humanity. Portraying a bore without being boring is not as easy is McCallum makes it look here.

Jean Anthony, as Orgon’s mother Pernelle, opens the show with spiteful gravitas, while Iain Kerr’s officer of the law brings the whole thing to a satisfactory close.

It would be easy to make all of the performances too broad or too mannered, but throughout there is a very fine line being walked that ensures it is funny enough while retaining a modicum of realism. This makes the performances seem commendably natural, which of course shows the amount of thought and hard work director John McLinden and the cast have put into this.

The tight confines of the St Ninian’s stage become a virtue, with the placing of the cast resembling a tableau at times, which suits the mannered, heightened realism on display without being overdone. Clever use is also made of the rest of the auditorium. This is done particularly well  by McCallum and Suzie Marshall, but  this is one device that is overused, with some vital parts of the story happening behind a large proportion of the audience.

Finlay Black’s clever set and Ian Cunningham’s unfussy lighting are well utilised by a production that is taut, extremely well performed and thoroughly successful all round.

Running time 2 hours 10 mins including interval

St Ninian’s Hall, 40 Comely Bank, EH4 1AG
Monday 13– Saturday 18 April 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Saturday at 2.30 pm
For tickets (£10/concs £8) phone 07599 928440
Company website: http://www.edinburghtheatrearts.com

ETA’s Tartuffe – Ben Robertson Petrie, Tim Biglowe, Natasha Klemek, Colin McPherson, Lisa Moffat, David McCallum, Suzie Marshall – Photo John McLinden



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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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