A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes
By Marcus Gardley
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham
October – 14 Nov
This world premiere of award-winning playwright Californian Marcus Gardley’s new play is a fitting return for him to the Tricycle. This fresh take on Molière’s Tartuffe, set in the US deep south, in a world where fast-food tycoons flourish alongside mega-churches and charismatic preachers gives the Molière play a new lease of life.
The original was a daring satire on religious hypocrisy and the gullibility of the petit-bourgeoisie in 17th century France. It is a play that would hardly work in a largely secular Britain today, but set in the USA it is very apposite. The country’s culture of evangelistic charlatans, fundamentalist Christianity and an atavistic belief in god and redemption is an ideal setting.
Given just days to live, multi-millionaire Archibald Organdy puts his faith in the flamboyant Archbishop Tardimus Toof, a prophet, preacher and part-time masseur from the deep south. Toof wheedles his way into the Organdy family and promises to absolve Archibald’s sins, heal his cancer as well as his son’s homosexuality, but Organdy’s live-in woman friend – a hard bitten, feisty and voluptuous former strip dancer – sees through the preacher’s pretence with his glutinous word artistry, shiny black suit and snakeskin shoes.
There is an overwhelmingly black cast who play with boundless energy, élan and verve. In Gardleys’ reworking of the play it becomes more of a farce, interspersed with great gospel singing and rap-like rhyming couplets, than a biting satire. The audience – largely black – clearly loved the cultural references of the humour.
The weakness, for me, came at the end when Tardimus Toof – now exposed as the bogus man of god that he is, but clutching the wealth he’s persuaded his gullible wealthy client to hand over – delivers a cynical paean to capitalist individualism, rejecting god and Christian charity, declaring that he now only believes in one god: himself.
Lucian Msamati plays Archbishop Tardimus Toof with a convincing charisma and the right touch of a smooth second had car salesman. Sharon D. Clarke as his dignified, but hard-put-upon wife is the perfect foil. As is Adjoa Andoh to her ascetic tycoon lover; she is the epitome of what she memorably calls herself: ‘a thick, golden brown, brick-house goddess of voluptuous lusciousness’. The Tricycle Theatre’s Olivier-Award winning Artistic Director Indhu Rubasingham directs.