Northern Broadsides have made a habit of giving European classics a Yorkshire setting. So it seems fitting that Barrie Rutter’s farewell, at least on home soil, to the company he founded should be a version by Blake Morrison of Alain-René Lesage’s Turcaret.
Even if Morrison’s adaptation is unlikely to cause the offence that the original did in France in 1709, it remains a lively satire on capitalist corruption. Morrison shifts the action from Louis XIV’s Paris to a Yorkshire town in the 1920s, but the characters are still propelled by greed. Rose, a young war widow, milks a besotted bank manager, Algy, for all she can while herself being conned by a money-grubbing cousin. But loot is to this play what sex is to La Ronde, in that it forms an endless daisy chain.
Just as the supposedly upright banker is guilty of embezzlement, so the cozening cousin has a fly servant who is also out to line his pockets. Virtually the only honest character is Rose’s housekeeper who is promptly dismissed for her plain speaking.
It seems a touch harsh to single out 1920s Yorkshire as uniquely covetous and there are times when you feel that Morrison may be too much in thrall to his source: I couldn’t believe he invented a duff scene where an antiques dealer tries to take advantage of Rose’s hardship. But the play works because, in the honourable tradition of Jonson or Molière, it uses farce to point up human fallibility.
Morrison’s text also has a constant verbal vivacity – so that Algy’s claim that he runs “a tight ship” is spoonerishly inverted to “a shite tip” – and makes rich use of Yorkshire dialect in which “a cup of tea” becomes “chatter-watter”. Rutter directs and, by having characters introduce themselves with a 20s dance, suggests we are watching a piece of poison-tipped frivolity.
Sarah-Jane Potts as the pageboy-haired Rose hits the right note of demure calculation and both Jordan Metcalfe as a wily servant and Kat Rose-Martin as his cleaner girlfriend, whom he introduces as “the best scrubber in town”, make a decisive mark. Rutter himself is also excellent as the bumptious bank manager who is bent as a hairpin. When he claims “I was trained in London – they taught me everything I know,” the actor half turns to the audience as if to get his own revenge on the arts apparatchiks who have denied him the funding he desperately needs.