RSC Swan Theatre
La Comedie Francaise and the urban family life of Small Heath collide head-on in this modernisation of Moliere’s classic. And, it has to be said, both come out of it in great shape.
The french writer’s evergreen tale of a family duped by a man playing them off against each other while overstaying his welcome is given the full 21st century British Muslim makeover.
For the upper echelons of French society read the upwardly mobile Pakistani-British business folk of modern Birmingham. For shady Catholic zealot read wily Islamic holy man.
Writer’s Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto leave recognisable features of the original but add a multitude of modern references, from smartphones to dating apps, skinny jeans to some wonderfully tart digs at Brexit none of which jars in the slightest.
The current RSC favourites are all in place. But in this case the banging soundtrack, hell-for-leather dancing and audience involvement are perfectly placed. This is a full-on accessible performance. Even the beatbox rap interludes stay within the style and drive the production along nicely.
There are terrific performances wherever you look and, under Iqbal Khan’s inventive and pacy direction, the energy is kept at ten or above from the first minute until the last. Designer Bretta Gerecke’s eye-catching house of neon tubes and light-up pictures adds even more colour if it were needed.
The three central roles – Imran and Amira Pervaiz (Simon Nagra and Sasha Behar) and their parasitic guest Tartuffe (Asif Khan) – are all rounded, nuanced and very funny. Moments of righteous anger, stunned disbelief and comic asides are handled perfectly by all.
Elsewhere praise must be heaped on Michelle Bonnard’s laconic Bosnian cleaner Darina. It’s a splendid performance – funny, sympathetic and holding the whole thing together. She fully deserves the spot-on pay off line at the end.
With all this going on it would be understandable if, at times, we lost sight of the whole thrust behind the play. But we don’t. This object lesson in how we can so easily fall prey to those wishing to exploit our ambitions, arrogance or just plain bloody-mindedness is as justified in cases of current day radicalisation as it was in the religious fervour of another time and another world. It’s a lesson that could be treated too heavily, too high-mindedly, but it’s to this production’s credit that it’s kept light and fun.
If Moliere were to be spinning in his grave over the liberties taken in presenting his classic, then it would surely be with laughter and relief that this comedic masterpiece is as funny and relevant as it ever was.
* Tartuffe runs until February 23. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.