I knew of Tartuffe before seeing this play but I’ve never seen it performed before and I don’t know the text so this theatre trip was a bit of an adventure. I wasn’t sure what to expect although I knew it had been given an update by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto.
Moliere’s original was about poking fun at, and satirising, “directeurs de conscience” in 17th century France. These Catholic lay preachers exerted high levels of influence on the individuals they battened onto and not all of them were genuinely pious, religious or working in the best interests of their “clients”.
The play is about exposing the hypocrisy of the people who exploit the tenets and beliefs of devout people.
This RSC version has been transported to Birmingham and to a family of Pakistani Muslims. The father, Iqbal, meets Tartuffe at the mosque, believes him to be a holy man and brings him home.
The rest of the family – children Damee and Mariam, wife Amira, friend Khalil and cleaner Darina – can see through Tartuffe but Iqbal continues to believe and to retreat into more traditional beliefs. The crux comes when Iqbal expects Mariam to break off her engagement to the man she loves and marry Tartuffe, when he signs away the family home and business to Tartuffe and when Tartuffe makes it clear to Amira that he wants her.
Darina, the main narrator, helps Amira devise a way out and Tartuffe is exposed as a con man.
The play starts with a bang – literally – as Darina explodes onto the stage listening to heavy metal music “through her headphones” and starts explaining what’s happening. It’s funny from the beginning and the audience continued laughing throughout the play.
There is some brilliant wordplay between characters and during the rap interludes.
I think that the underlying story has enough credibility for the audience to understand that it is universal. It doesn’t matter whether the family are Muslim, Catholic, Survivalists, wedded to the tenets of Napoleon Hill or another business guru, etc, etc, etc, the potential is there for an unscrupulous hustler to take advantage of a guileless follower.
I think the play also reflected how, in a world that has changed so much during their lifetime, older people can feel the need to find something that gives them a sense of certainty they lost when their generation became “the grown ups”.
On the whole I think the stage set worked well, although I am puzzled as to why some of the furniture needed to be moved around on Scalextric-style pegs in slots. It was slightly distracting from the play trying to work out the why!
I really liked Michelle Bonnard as Darina, Raj Bajaj as Damee and Zainab Hasan as Mariam. They inhabited their roles well. I didn’t think anyone was miscast and, given some of my recent rants, everyone was audible.
Overall, a really fun evening at the theatre with an underlying message that kept us discussing it, on and off, all the way home from Stratford to Yorkshire.