Manuel Harlan

Blanche McIntyre directs John Donnelly’s ferociously modern adaptation of Moliere’s comic masterpiece, starring Denis O’Hare as the titular trickster.

Tartuffe may be over 350 years old, yet this contemporary interpretation very much feels like a play for today. While the broad narrative remains the same – head of the household Orgon and his mother fall the charms of con artist Tartuffe – it’s all brought bang up to date with modern language, phones, social media and political discourse surrounding socialism and capitalism. There’s even a surprisingly funny sex joke about the benefits of trickle down economics.

Denis O’Hare – star of American Horror Story and True Blood – appears in the title role. Unfortunately we never really warmed to him – granted, he’s not meant to be a likeable character, but we felt everything was a bit too slapstick and vulgar – all played for cheap gags. It didn’t help that we had to endure one of the wonkiest accents we’ve ever heard on the stage.

Thankfully there are a number of redeeming features. Robert Jones’ set is vast and impressive, with plenty of hidden elements allowing for surprising and amusingly sudden entrances and exits. Most of the acting was strong and while the first act was over-long and a bit flat, the second picked up the pace and generally entertained throughout.

Overall, though, we were a bit underwhelmed by this new adaptation. It has many of the elements of a great show, but they never really added up to more than the sum of their parts. For a comedy it felt light on genuine laughs, while the more slapstick moments sat uncomfortably next to the serious political points. It’s not a disaster and it has its moments, but this topical twist on the classic French farce just misses the mark.

Gay Times gives Tartuffe – ★★★

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