Tartuffe – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Writer: Molière

Adaptors: Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto

Director: Iqbal Khan

Look out, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, the Pervaiz family are about to hang out their dirty washing and what an utter stink ensues. No issues dodging here: usurping the oppressive misogyny of the Establishment religious patriarchy, selective interpretations of The Koran for convenience of purpose, forced marriage, compulsory wearing of the hijab, hypocrisies on steroids and the conflated concept of female ‘Honour’ confused with male Pride. Throw in a dash of starry-eyed, very cross, giddy lovers for additional comic relief.

Want some real-time family feuding fun enough to make the Peaky Blinder Shelby family look like The Waltons? Take then, a wasp-on-the-wall, peak into the chaotic affairs of a family in love and at war.

Artistic licence to thrill and shock with slap-schtick, schlock and awkward awe, as the realities of the Koran being manipulated and corrupted by the eponymous hypocrite to suit his venal pursuits, allows this production, originally commissioned by the RSC, to flourish with absolution abandon. And doesn’t it just.

Father, Imran Pervaiz, an explosive presence from Simon Nagra, has fallen for the cuckoo’s calling charlatan, Tartuffe. A self-appointed ‘Holy Man’, a sham shaman, whose highly selective interpretation of the Koran (‘The Brown-Man’s version’) has his proselytism more immediately focused on lining his own pockets and exercising the priapic pursuing contents of his ludicrous leopard-print underpants.

Though holy names are invoked by dint of exasperation or devotion, never are they disrespected or challenged. Molière identifies his targets with astute perception, dissecting both virtues and vice with equal surgical-like contempt and empathy, the Pervaiz family’s vicissitudes laid bare with visceral precision. As Bob Marley would have it, ‘Observing the hypocrites.’ Subversive, prowling-clawed rebellious in exposing the sclerotic Establishments, targets include the proxy-war carnage in Syria: no ad-lib, meta-textual references towards the teenage kickings to death by the Iranian ‘Morality Police’ needed here.

Faithful in spirit and plot to Molière’s original text, quite how the blow-lamp intensity of the Brummie accent would go down in the Parisian salons notwithstanding, the pace is relentless, with minimalist set design (Bretta Gerecke) exploiting the novel use of suspended, neon light tubes. It has to be Olga Fedori’s Darina, Bosnian Muslim house cleaner, metal-punk moderator and voice of reason, who holds the stage with magnificent condescension. With weaponised vacuum cleaner, she scours the startled auditorium in search of possible dissenters not aligned to her pursuit of truth and reason. ‘Don’t follow false prophets/Don’t let people get in the way of your God.’ is her epitaph mantra.

Salman Akhtar takes on the role of Damme Pervaiz with a street-punk, testosterone-charged aesthetic worthy of guest-spot in The Young Ones. He rages against the machinations of the predatory Tartuffe, a preposterously OTT celebration of kitsch characterisation from Asif Khan.

This is a morality farce exposé of human frailty, gullibility, family mores under intense duress but salved with the essential concept of forgiveness. Qasim Mahmood as Waqaas, together with Anshula Bain’s Mariam, are the apotheosis of teenage-lover temper tantrums to the max.

Molière’s ‘difficult denouement’ where the contrived deus ex machina conveniently resolves the Pervaiz family’s impending eviction and ruin undergoes some cosmetic plot revisions. Adaptors Anil GuptacandRichard Pinto suggest Molière, ‘wouldn’t mind,’ as the original ending was imposed on him to placate an enraged church. Fair play, as it were/is. The wry introduction of the unspeakable skeleton in the family cupboard, grandfather’s illegal passport and potential deportation, holds febrile resonance, sending a palpable shiver throughout the auditorium. A production fuelled with high-octane spillage where every character carries a flaming torch of potential light or imminent conflagration ticks every box on the thought-provoking anarchic agenda – with a side-order of comedic hubris.

A biting farce with fangs, this Tartuffe not so much punches above its weight as asks every brain-muscled bigot in the gym for a ten-round, gloves-off knuckle-fest.

Last word to ‘That French one’ as Asif mischievously references Molière, ‘There’s naught more odious/than whited sepulchres of outward unction.’

Runs Until 5 November 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A biting farce with fangs.

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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