What a tempting combination: the naughtiness of 17th century Moliere and the wit of today’s scouse poet Roger McGough.
It makes Tartuffe, at the Liverpool Playhouse next week, required viewing.
This French comic classic has been adapted by McGough, popular poet known for the sidelong humour of his verse. And the director is Gemma Bodinetz, the Playhouse’s artistic director, guaranteed to add extra zest.
“Oh yes,” says McGough, who approached rehearsals with some trepidation. “It works. Aren’t actors terrific? I’m looking forward to the performance now. It will be great.”
Originally banned by Louis XIV, Tartuffe, the play, is about Tartuffe, the man, an apparent beacon of saintliness, who gets his feet firmly under the table of wealthy merchant Orgon. But the family smell a rat. Is he friend or fraud?
Amid the frills and frivolity of 17th century Parisien society, they hatch a cunning plan to outwit the wily deceiver before he brings their house crashing down.
“He’s not got much going for him,” says McGough. “He doesn’t come on until the second act and meanwhile everyone has been talking about him. But when he does appear he sweeps all before him. Doors slam, people hide in cupboards, it’s farce, fast, sexy and fun.”
Award-winning poet, playwright, broadcaster and children’s author, he is one of Liverpool’s most famous sons, known for his comic insight and story-telling. But he was floored when Gemma asked him to adapt Tartuffe.
“I’m no classical scholar and French at university was a long time ago,” he said, “but I got a word for word translation and worked with that. It just took off.
“The dramatic structure was there, and the character building. I just had to make it talk to the modern ear. I’ve blended the historical with expressions that, alright, wouldn’t have been used then, but it’s not out of place.
“Scouse it ain’t! But it does have my rhythm.”
McGough has honed this since his days with the pop and poetry group The Scaffold, through years as one of the Liverpool poets with Adrian Henri and Brian Patten, to recent sold-out performances at the Liverpool Playhouse and Everyman theatres.
He has also published his poetry, two plays and his autobiography Said and Done, as well as writing and presenting for BBC Radio, notably the weekly programme Poetry Please.
And he has enjoyed this latest challenge, producing a witty new version of Tartuffe for a beautifully dressed production set in the period. It looks like being another Year of Culture triumph for Bodinetz and it will go on to wave the Liverpool flag at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.
Tartuffe runs from May 9-31. Tickets are available on www.everymanplayhouse.com or call 0151 709 4776. Prices range from £9 to £20.