Review: A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes Transports Tartuffe To The Bible Belt
All too often, modern adaptations of classic texts fall far short of the originals. We cringed through Carol Ann Duffy's Everyman and winced through Peter Ackroyd's Canterbury Tales — so Marcus Gardley's adaptation of Molière's Tartuffe, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, is a double delight, both in itself and as a worthy homage to the French master.
Gardley takes the 1664 courtly comedy to the modern day Deep South in a masterstroke on par with Gregory Doran's Julius Caesar in contemporary Africa. The relentless verse captures the cadences of the earnest and energetic world of the modern Evangelical church, as intoned from the start by the formidable First Lady Loretta Toof (Sharon D Clarke) wife of the modestly named The Righteous Reverend Prelate Prophetic Apostle Tardimus Tito Jermaine Toof (Tartuffe):
Are y'all ready! For a spirit-filled, water-baptised, saved and sanctified, Holy Ghost convocational, multi-denominational, occasionally Pentecostal, get on the good foot Gospel fest and penitent revival deep in the gutbucket Bible belt of Lick Skillet, Tennessee?
Every cast member of director Indhu Rubasingham's superlative production delivers this rhythmic, rhyme-filled rhetoric with aplomb. Lucian Msamati garners the gravitas of the greats when he delivers a Shylock-like soliloquy defending his extracurricular carnal needs despite being a married man of the cloth: "Am I not a man?" Despite his all-round sleaziness in his too-tight shiny suit and suspicious snakeskin shoes, we know that at certain moments we too could be taken in by such bucketfuls of charisma.
What stands out most, though, is the women. We're certain a scene where ex-exotic dancer Peaches (Elmire, played by Adjoa Andoh) rebuts a slut-shaming attack on her figure-hugging leopard-print dress would go viral on YouTube — she had the house whooping and whistling in agreement. And the creation of a wife for the Tartuffe character replaces the sycophantic deus ex machina-esque nonsense of the original, where a benevolent King Louis XIV steps in to save the day, with a much more interesting exploration of female power.
Sure, it's not flawless. Midlands actress Michelle Bonnard is not entirely successful in her valiant attempts to mimic a Mississippian and then a Mexican accent (the former with a distinctly Australian twang, the latter strangely eastern European). We see far too little of Angela Wynter's fabulous Mother Organdy (Madame Pernelle), and the (albeit spectacular) monologue she is given seems designed to provoke with its over-the-top sexism. But generally it's the over-the-top everything that we love about this production.
A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes is at the Tricycle Theatre until 14 November, tickets £12-£28. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 17 October 2015