Given it’s globally the most renowned company for staging Shakespeare, the RSC is certainly used to working with timeless classics from a few centuries ago. It therefore comes as little surprise to me that the Stratford-based company have selected Molière’s esteemed Tartuffe as one of its two Swan Theatre shows for the forthcoming winter season.
While still closely linked to Molière’s opus the production, in fact, follows a contemporary script created by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto. Both have written episodes for BBC One’s Citizen Khan, which perhaps goes some way to explaining the decision to set the new version around a household of Pakistani origin. Inundated with rib-tickling one-liners, the storyline sees the Pervaiz’s, residing in a lavish property on the outskirts of Birmingham, betrayed by their house guest, Tartuffe, despite their efforts to treat him as family.
Putting any perusal of the text to one side, Director Iqbal Khan’s attention to the theme of feminism undoubtedly pays the most dividends. In a confrontation with Amira, for example, he randomly seizes her breast. Considering Molière was partly responsible for the start of feminism in France and the #MeToo movement’s ample coverage of late, it’s a studious touch from Khan – I doubt you’d find many more horrific snapshots in theatres nationwide at present. His use of live, Punjabi musical interludes is, also, highly commendable. They hugely heighten the intensity at several points in the show, whether it be during transitions at the end of hostile scenes or, my personal favourite, when used to compliment speech. Given the sheer number of passages, which fit so well, Composer Sarah Sayeed deserves considerable credit too.
“Inundated with rib-tickling one-liners”
The only place where I can solely dispute Iqbal’s decisions is towards the start when several company members dash onstage in a frenzy to rock music, at which point they perform a movement sequence. Although it creates some bewitching images, I can’t help but think it to be a little out of line with the rest of the performance.
Of the actors, Asif Khan is utterly stupendous as the title character. Until Tartuffe’s exposed, Khan portrays his character’s growing superiority marvellously, commanding the stage more each time he enters. He, sensationally, manifests every layer of the protagonist’s complex personality and manages to do this with the utmost ease. From Tartuffe’s beguilement towards Usman to his ignorance of Damee, Khan evinces it all.
A cast-wide issue, comparatively, seems to be the lack of audibility with the occasional line. Some of the actors, for example, struggle to maintain diction when they deliver lines quickly whereas others, have accents so strong it becomes difficult to comprehend their speech.
It’s easy, in this production, for your ears to relax and be serenaded by the sitar and the cello. It’s easy, in this production, for yours eyes to fixate and be mesmerised by the domineering stature of Asif Khan’s Tartuffe. Once Tartuffe lays his hand upon Amira so inappositely, however, it’s difficult to shake off the perturbation.
Image: Topher McGrillis ©RSC