Reviewer's rating

The thing about the production of the new play called Tartuffe at the RSC is that it is really a play by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto who have created a kind of “riff” on the original by Molière. I liked it a lot.

The clever thing they have done is not just to update the original play to the Muslim community in Birmingham today, but also to follow the structure of the original despite all the necessary detailed updates; that structure is one of the glories of the original and also gives people who know the original play a strong link to it. They have, therefore, kept most of the highlight situations of the original Molière comedy (for example, the father’s naive belief in the sincerity of the religious conman; the wife’s allowing Tartuffe to think he can seduce her while her husband is hidden away; the desperation of the children and their conflicts with their father about Tartuffe). In some ways, this makes the play not just a commentary on the original, but also a recognizably contemporaneous satire on all religious hypocrisy and charlatanism. And it makes this version a real tribute to the original, classic satire by Molière.

The script is clever and, at times, fairly hard hitting; and the overall pacing and intelligence of the production delighted me and the audience I saw it with. The cheeky, truth-speaking maid of the original play becomes Darina, the family’s cleaner, played brilliantly by Michelle Bonnard. Her character is utterly engaging and completely believable and she is the bridge into the action for the audience. Simon Nagra as the duped head of the household has a kind of believable innocence about him that becomes more and more irritating as he simply will not listen to the evidence being presented to him. He is a study in how it works if one is emotionally committed to something no matter how delusional and despite all the evidence. He is thus a very contemporary figure! Sasha Behar as the put-upon wife who works to expose Tartuffe and Asif Khan as Tartuffe is totally delightful and convincing.

The design of the contemporary house by Bretta Gerecke is particularly striking and the music of Sarah Sayeed provides an apt soundtrack to the new approach to the material. There is even a certain amount of rapping by various characters. James Clyde has our sympathy as a family friend, Khalil, a sincere convert to the Muslim religion who is in a major state of frustration because he can see through Tartuffe and yet cannot quite expose him. The children, played by Zainab Hasan and Raj Bajaj, are also excellent. And Amina Zia is a scene-stealer as the grandmother. Full credit must be given yet again to Iqbal Khan for his talented and pertinent direction.

This is not Molière, more a contemporary tribute to Molière showing how directly relevant his themes still are today in our own world; and a very fine tribute that will also get you to go back to the original text, I suspect. Molière’s Tartuffe is harsher in some ways, and darker. This version has its stings, but it is more of a romp. And the ending is delightfully clever and surprising. The entire cast works together as a really fine ensemble. I see no evidence on the RSC website that this interesting, inventive production will be transferred to London or that it will be broadcast to cinemas. What a pity! But you have until 23 February 2019 to get to Stratford and see for yourself.