Monday, 19 October 2015

Theatre review: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes

Last year Marcus Gardley took loose inspiration from Lorca's bleak The House of Bernarda Alba, to create the serious but hugely entertaining House That Will Not Stand. So I was very much looking forward to him teaming up with director Indhu Rubasingham again for a play based on a much lighter source: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes is an adaptation of Molière’s satirical farce Tartuffe. The play could also be seen as a comic companion piece to Lucas Hnath's The Christians, as both playwrights are the sons of preachers in American megachurches, and that's where they've set their stories. But unlike Hnath's successful church, Gardley's play takes place in one that's hardly thriving: Tardimus Toof (Lucian Msamati) is the self-styled Apostle whose apparently successful healing of the sick isn't drawing in any cash - although it does give him the chance to hit on the young women he heals, much to the fury of his wife.

When Loretta (Sharon D. Clarke) catches him with his latest conquest, she gives him an ultimatum: The bank are going to repossess the church unless he can find the money to repay the mortgage within a week.

He does this by apparently healing Archibald Organdy (Wil Johnson,) the millionaire owner of a fried chicken-cum-funeral parlour chain, of terminal cancer. But a couple of days at Organdy's home reveals tensions in his family. His son Gumper's (Karl Queensborough) sexuality is obvious to everyone except his father; his daughter (Ayesha Antoine) has gone travelling, changed her name to Africa and come home with a faux-Nigerian accent; and his girlfriend Peaches (Adjoa Andoh) has just realised she's been left nothing in the will. Not satisfied with just his fee, Toof plots to turn the family against each other and steal the whole fortune for himself.

A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes opens with one of Toof's overblown revival services, then goes into a farcical sex comedy as the preacher tries to seduce a congregant (Michelle Bonnard) while hiding her from his wife, before moving on to the histrionics of the rich family. It's not subtle, but it's a lot of fun, with a number of unashamedly crowd-pleasing sequences. Gardley's script if full of witty lines - one scene between Organdy and Gumper is essentially a prolonged Ricky Martin joke and a gift that keeps on giving - but Rubasingham isn't content to let that carry the show.

Instead she goes for a deliberately OTT style - Andoh's tottering, growling Peaches is a riskily broad performance choice but she pulls it off. Tom Piper's set gives a skewed, slightly dizzy perspective, and gospel songs provide interludes to cover the scene changes. Gardley's twist to something much darker at the conclusion is a bit too abrupt to really work, but overall this is great tongue-in-cheek fun that lived up to my high expectations and was a great antidote to a dreary Monday.

A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes by Marcus Gardley, based on Tartuffe by Molière, is booking until the 14th of November at the Tricycle Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

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