Tricycle Theatre, London (or the Gospel of Tartuffe) ***
The thing about farce, particularly one in rhyming couplets, is it’s important to hear the words – something Indhu Rubasingham’s otherwise lively production doesn’t always provide.
A shame because Marcus Gardley’s southern states version of Moliere’s Tartuffe has much going for it: some fantastic singing of spirituals, occasionally lively verbal play and a loyalty to Moliere’s satirical intention exposing the hypocrisy of religious piety that produces the enjoyably robust central protagonist of Apostole Toof, southern preacher and miracle worker.
In Moliere’s original, Tartuffe infiltrates one of the haute bourgeoisie, causing havoc to wife, daughter and son by deluding the head of the household, Orgon with his pious beliefs. Gardley’s gullible equivalent is Organdy (Wil Johnson), a mulit-millionaire described by Toof as `the all in one fried-chicken-fat-shack, check cashing, liquor store and funeral parlor tycoon.’
Toof, down on his luck with the church he set up with his wife, First Lady (the redoubtable and wonderful Sharon D Clarke) himself needs a miracle which arrives in the shape of Orlandy’s mother, asking for help to save her billionaire son, dying of `cancer of the heart.’
The ensuing mayhem in the Organdy household shows Gardley quite cruelly pilloring his own and other forms of gullibility such as false trails of identity that sends African-Americans searching back to their roots (his daughter, aptly named Africa) and macho chauvinism (via a gay son who wants to be an air stewardess).
But overwhelmingly it is aimed at bible-thumping, rapacious preachers deluding their flocks with false claims of health miracles. Organdy believes himself `healed’ by Toof’s laying on of hands, a ploy the preacher also uses on Gumper, the gay son to heal him of his `abomination.’
Rubasingham’s production is rich with larger-than-life performances – there’s a lovely scene in which Adjoa Andoh’s voluptuous Peaches (Organdy’s `fiancée) confronts the First Lady with Toof’s sexual misdemeanours, begging her to come and retrieve him, only for the First Lady to say, `take him.’
Best of all is Gardley’s secular denunciation given full-throated voice by Lucian Msamati’s Toof in his final speech, a denial of the existence of God in the face of recent racial violence and murders that moves and shatters despite Toof’s undeniable hubris.
Beware men like Toof bearing snakeskin shoes! they are not what they seem runs the moral of this story. Fast and furious, imperfect but great.
A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes runs at the Tricycle Theatre to Nov 14, 2015
First published in Reviewsgate in Oct, 2015, and slightly amended here.