Aug 11 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Great Scots

Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre (Venue 83): Sat 3– Sat 17 Aug 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

The fundamental comic energy, pace and Scots snap Leitheatre give to Tartuffe at St Serf’s is very welcome, making for a refreshing, breezy production.

Liz Lochhead’s celebrated 1980s rendering into Scots of Moliere’s tale of a religious conman relies on an elastic, gorgeously poetic demotic that owes as much to stair-heid insults and Oor Wullie as it does to any literary or philosophical tradition.

Alan Jeffreys, Frank Skelly and Nicole Nadler. Pic: Marion Donohoe

This is one of its great strengths, but means it cannot be approached too reverently; instead it must be attacked with gusto. One of the best things about this production is that the cast go breenging into it with considerable verve, and the result has genuine comic energy.

Central to this is Orgon, the pater familias who has been gulled by the unco guid Tartuffe. Frank Skelly’s Orgon is a blustering manchild whose infatuation – and subsequent disillusionment – are a joy to behold. Dionne Wilson as the servant Dorine provides the play’s conscience, as often servants do in Moliere, and she does so with relish.

One of the structural peculiarities of the play is that it takes so long for Tartuffe himself to surface, so when he does he had better have some impact. Alan Jeffreys certainly supplies that, with his wheedling, heaven-invoking self-justifications immediately familiar to Scottish audiences of any period.

It is also a physically intriguing performance, taking a great deal from Scottish stage and variety traditions, with the scene where he attempts to seduce Orgon’s wife Elmire (a confidently comic Nicole Nadler) being particularly memorable for the combination of sober three-piece suit and pineapple-bedecked boxer shorts.

gorgeously evoked

Sometimes – as in the row between young lovers Marianne and Valere – the pace is just on the edge of being comprehensible, but this is not a grave fault – the point about the synthetic Scots used is that it hardly matters if you don’t pick up every word. Besides, Alix Spinks turns in an effectively naive Marianne, and Kevin Edie’s Valere is well pitched.

Tartuffe gets what is coming. Pic: Marion Donohoe

Ewan Jardine gives Cleante, Elmire’s brother and the unheeded voice of reason, a stiff-backed air and clear expression, while Phyllis Ross is authoritative as Orgon’s mother – although she is one of those who approaches the over-reverential in her delivery on occasion.

Charles Jones is nicely comic as Tartuffe’s non-speaking servant, while John Fowler and John Macaskill discharge their smaller roles at the close with some presence.

The post-First World war period Lochhead chose for her version is gorgeously evoked in Stephen Hajducki’s art deco set. Director Don Arnott, as well as overseeing the effective comic approach, also uses the stage and cast well, creating some attractive tableaux as well as giving space for the comic set-pieces.

Perhaps some of this comedy could be exploited even further – despite the successful approach to the language, some of the funnier lines and situations lack some confidence. This is never enough, however, to undermine the fundamental comic energy which makes this a highly successful effort.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval
Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre, 1a Clark Rd, EH5 3BD (Venue 83)
Saturday 3 – Saturday 17 August 2019
Daily (not Suns, Sat 17) at 7.30 pm; Sat 17 at 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tartuffe

Company website: www.leitheatre.com
Facebook: @Leitheatre
Twitter: @LeitheatreEdin

The cast of Tartufe. Pic: Marion Donohoe


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Comments (2)

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  1. Maggie Kennedy says:

    Great review. Well deserved.

  2. Christine Tromans says:

    I saw this great show last night enjoyed it very much.