Until April 8, then national tour until May 13
This new version of Molière’s Tartuffe is an experiment in tone that pays off nicely in a madcap production full of surprises.
The play from 1664 is a study in hypocrisy: Tartuffe, a penniless man, presents an elaborately pious and virtuous front to the world, whilst scheming behind the scenes for his own advancement. Orgon has taken him into his house and starts to prefer the interloper over his own son. Meanwhile, Tartuffe is trying to seduce his wife and grasp ownership of the property. The resourceful wife Elmire offers to expose Tartuffe’s villainy by appearing open to his advances, whilst her husband hides himself and observes — this is a brilliantly funny scene.
Playwright Frank McGuinness has created a hybrid version of the play, combining the antique shape of rhyming couplets with contemporary language — “hurly-burly” is rhymed with “short and curlies”. The text is carefully balanced between Molière’s period and the 2023 audience receiving it.
Director Caitríona McLaughlin gives this in-between time stamp an inventive meta-theatricality: the household is largely 17th century in vibe, but servants do TikTok type dance routines; characters hold mobile phones; and secrets are stored on a laptop. Philip Stewart’s sound design features contemporary pop and techno. Katie Davenport’s costumes are a grab-bag of anachronisms — period ballgowns are paired with trainers; sparkly shoes set off dressy period frock coats.
Ryan Donaldson is wonderful as the charming Tartuffe, but also flips to darkness easily — he is a major talent on the rise. Frank McCusker brings total dignity to the foolish Orgon, an erotic undertow in his capitulation to Tartuffe’s charms gives his idiocy some slender reason. Aislín McGuckin is a seductive powerhouse as Elmire, literally. Emma Rose Creaner adds a ripe layer of antique melodrama as the daughter Mariane, which is a lot of fun.
Following on from the production of An Octoroon last year, the Abbey continues to develop new ways to perform old classics in an ultra-contemporary theatrical language. This show gives you plenty to chew on, and while it takes a while for the style to settle, it builds into a baroque evening of high intrigue, with a pleasing old-fashioned comeuppance at the end.