Tartuffe Fringe 2020★★★★

Adelaide Fringe. Moliere’s Tartuffe by Liz Lochhead. The Arch Holden Street Theatres. 12 Feb 2020


The surtitles are there not because Moliere wrote in French but because Liz Lochhead’s take on the 17th Century French comedy is in braw, regional Scots argot.  It’s tough to interpret even for a modern city Scot. But, delivered in very artful rhyming couplets by a thoroughly accomplished cast of classical actors from Scotland’s The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, it is a voyage of wild vernacular quirkiness and traditional comic caper.


Tartuffe is otherwise known as “The Intruder”, being the tale of a sleazy social parasite who has inveigled his way into the household of a decidedly gullible gentleman called Orgon.


This production, directed by Tony Cownie with very cunning curved scenery transforming the little Arch’s stage, is set for no ostensible reason in the 1940s. 


Therein, the sturdy, wise maid, most engagingly embodied by Joyce Falconer, explains the plot and deliciously describes the vile Tartuffe as a “succubus” and her fool of a boss as a “galoot”. She has some glorious lines, among them the temptingly imitable exclamation which translates as “what, the hair oil”.


The purpose of the plot is to protect the unseen daughter of the household from forced marriage to Tartuffe, to which end Orgon’s beautiful trophy wife, Elmire, wittily played by Nicola Roy,  has to invest her considerable charms. Harry Ward captures the obstinate dolt spirit of Orgon to a tee while Andy Clark makes such a strident and convincing meal of Tartuffe’s squalid lechery that one’s skin crawls.


All the while, the language flows in voice and surtitles, densely lilting, a marvel of wondrous words whence the more one concentrates, the more the Lochhead poetic skills roll forth, a barrage of brogue and ingenious rhymes.


Thus is this unusual production a cultural adventure on myriad levels.  There’s never been a Fringe offering quite like it and daresay there never will again. It is definitely worth some brave immersion.


Samela Harris


When: 12 Feb to 15 Mar

Where: Holden Street Theatres

Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au