Molière deep-fried and sizzling
IT TURNS out that spilling from an agonisingly slow train, and arriving 10 minutes late into Marcus Gardley’s ferocious version of Molière’s Tartuffe is no bad way to see an updated classic. By that point in the evening the story of sham Gospel preacher and serial philanderer Toof (geddit?), played by Lucian Msamati with the Southern charm of a snake-oil salesman, is in full flow.
And the riptide speed of Indhu Rubasingham’s production allows little time to ponder such niceties as whether Molière’s 17th-century French satire suits America’s modern day Deep South. In Gardley’s version, Toof inveigles his way into the house of fried-chicken tycoon Organdy, whose failing health is given a new lease of life by the preacher’s powers of pious suggestion.
The same powers persuade Organdy to cut his mistress and children from his will, replacing them with the scheming Toof as sole inheritor. Religious hypocrisy is exposed as completely in 21st-century Atlanta as it is in Molière’s original setting, 17th-century Paris.
My only gripe is that Gardley’s rhyming couplets are sometimes of the frustratingly near-rhyme kind. “Adonis” is paired with “promise” etc. A proper lyricist would do better. However, in all other respects the writ- ing is muscular, and as vivid and rude as neon.
Msamati is terrific as are Sharon D. Clarke and Adjoa Andoh as the fierce women Toof has wronged. No punches are pulled in this war of words that are catapulted to their target with the rhythm of Gospel prayer. “I promised to stand by you until death did you part,” rails Clarke as the long-suffering wife.
What drives this show, however, is the stacks of sass and say-it-to-thehand attitude, something that the tricycle’s Rubasingham showed a great ear for with her recent National Theatre production of The Motherf**ker with the Hat. And it’s never more powerful here than in the confrontation between Andho’s alluring Peaches, mistress to the fried-chicken tycoon, and the buttoned-up piety of Clarke’s preacher wife. What starts out as clash of contrasts ends up as deeply moving sisterly mutual respect. And when Toof announces the death of God, invoking last June’s still raw church massacre at Charleston, you know that Molière has been truly wrenched into the 21st century. In the week before the Tricycle updated Molière’s attack on religious piety, the Young Vic did the same for Shakespeare’s. As Angelo, the newly installed ruler of Vienna, Paul Ready chillingly turns meek modesty into an implacable ruthlessness. His selfappointed job is to cleanse his citystate of sin. You can hardly blame him. You can’t move for blow-up dolls. They comically bob and loll around Miriam
in action Beuther’s cube of a set like corks in a bath. It’s a relief, then, that as the sister of Claudio, the man condemned by Angelo to death for impregnating his lover out of wedlock, Romola Garai is an oasis of virtue and faith.
So convincing is she, and so certain of his righteousness is Angelo, the shock of his attempted rape and blackmail carries the charge of a lightning bolt. Director Joe Hill-Gibbins uses all manner of entertaining effects to keep us engaged. And, unlike some of his past productions, they work very well.
But that’s because they don’t distract from the serious undertow that keeps all the fireworks anchored. Angelo’s Vienna is a place of unopposed God’s rule. And with no obvious connection made, Isis is still evoked, as is the notion of what that brand of piety would look like if it was here.
the cast of