ComedyDramaReviewSouth West

Tartuffe- The Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Writer: Moliere

Adaptor: Andrew Hilton and Dominic Power

Director: Andrew Hilton

Reviewer: Kris Hallett

Its the end of an era here in Bristol with the news that Andrew Hilton will step down at the end of the season as artistic director at Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory. For nearly two decades he has put his venture on the map from small beginnings to international touring, as the place to see crystalline clear versions of Shakespeare. In later years the remit has widened to some of the other greats of world dramatics but still at first glance it may seem a little odd that he is bowing out not with the Bard of Stratford-Upon-Avon but with France’s greatest dramatic import Moliere’s and his comic play Tartuffe.

Yet it works wonders; Hilton and co-adaptor Dominic Power have created is a rip-roaring night of comedy that turns the oft-accused ‘too international’ Moliere into a British political satirist. Perhaps freed from the restraints he places on himself when directing Shakespeare, it is a playful, creative and fun work that remains respectful but not in thrall to the original, filled with rhyming couplets and complete with as much wit as Coward in his pomp.

Originally scandalising the powers of the church with its tale of a man who uses religion to con a rich man out of house and daughter, here it becomes a tale of a Tory government minister being swindled by a miserable memoirist, who attempts to seduce his wife while discussing his plans to marry his daughter. It takes two acts for Moliere to introduce his antagonist to the stage, but when he does Mark Meadows explodes onto it, full of ‘alternative truths’ and complete bluff turned to guff ‘never to trust the experts’.

It may be goodbye not just for Hilton but some of his acting lieutenants who have served him so well over the years. If this is their goodbye to the company as well, then they provide some memorable final memories. Christopher Bianci’s Charles, the Minister duped into giving up his own home, must have been written with him in mind. He convinces absolutely as an upstanding Right Honourable member who has Bullingdon’d his way into the cabinet. Foisted with indignation, shoved under a piano to listen to his wives seduction and clad in lycra after a workout session, he plays the galled man to perfection, always balancing the scales between sympathy and ridicule. Saskia Portway plays his wife like a Coward heroine, cut-glass accent and style aplenty. All she is missing is a long cigarette and a line in emasculation. Meanwhile Alan Coveney breaks wild as tabloid hack superstar Des Loyal, ready to break a scoop about political sex lives and how the other half live.

If one mentions these three performers it is because they are embedded in the fabric of the company but Hilton has sculpted fine performance from across his cast, many of whom are also repeat performers for the company. Philip Buck, Joel Macey and Daisy May all stand mouths agape and frustrations aplenty at the duplicity Tartuffe pulls around them in their family home while Tina Gray is an old battleship as the mother of Charles who also falls under the chancers spell. Ultimately the downfall of Tartuffe isn’t spelt by members of the family, painted as decent but ineffective, but from the outsiders looking in, from Anna Elijasz’ PHD educated Polish house keeper and Kenton Thomas’ trainee lawyer.

As a goodbye Hilton goes out in style. Surely in a year when Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris received an OBE, an award for his own services to drama in this city should be on the table.

Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Craig Fuller

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