Telling the story of a Pakistani Muslim family from Birmingham, the RSC’s adaptation of Moliére’s Tartuffe is superbly contemporary and brilliantly funny.
Adapted by the writers of Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars and Citizen Khan, Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, it’s rich in humour. Telling the story of the Pervaiz family who are modern Muslims living in Birmingham, when head of the family Imran meets Tartuffe at the Mosque, he becomes infatuated with with him and his teachings. Anti-hero Tartuffe cons his way into the family telling them he’ll guide them to become better Muslims when really all he wants is their money. When Imran believes Tartuffe and falls for his trickery, it begins to tear his family apart.
It’s excellently quick-witted adaptation that has a real West Midlands feel. With Brummie accents, jokes and references, it’s a piece of regional theatre that really captures the spirit of Birmingham. The fantastic addition of Bosnian maid Darina, a refugee that has spent most of her life in Birmingham and ten years
Michelle Bonnard is exceptional in the outspoken role as her blunt sarcasm and straight-talking brings immense humour to the piece. She converses with the audience, which works perfectly in the intimacy of the RSC’s Swan Theatre. Her warmth engages the audience and enhances that feeling of escapism that a story so brilliantly written can create.
A really interesting aspect of the play is Imran’s two children and his relationship with them. Son Damee (Raj Bajaj) and daughter Mariam (Zainab Hasan) are both magnificent and are characters a lot of youngsters will relate to as they battle their frustrations with their dad.
Mariam is a graduate of Women’s Studies and she uses her sharp mind to talk of women’s rights but when her father encourages her to marry Tartuffe, the irony is that she struggles to fight back. Damee has a hot temper who is constantly fighting for justice which results in numerous rap battles against Tartuffe.
This rap battle had the audience in hysterics, in particular a group of school kids watching the show. His grandma Dadimaa (Amina Zia) describes Damee as someone who thinks he is a “kala gora gangsta rapper” and she isn’t wrong. Zia’s characterisation as the snappy grandma proves she is perfectly cast. It’s a shame she only features in the play at the very start and very end, but what we do see of her is ridiculously funny.
Simon Nagra is outstanding as Imran, the easily influenced patriarch that is totally enthralled by Tartuffe. Nagra has natural comic timing and his authenticity makes him instantly likeable, despite the mistakes he makes. Whereas Asif Khan does a tremendous job at making the audience hate him as he manipulates the Pervaiz family. Khan’s characterisation is terrific as his conniving and scheming motives are unravelled. A particular highlight is when he attempts to seduce Imran’s wife Amira (Sasha Behar) which results in quite the tricky situation.
Tartuffe is a bold, intelligent and hilarious comedy that shines a light on family dynamics and the Asian community in Birmingham. With everything from Brexit, to Twitter and Windrush thrown into the script, it’s a relevant piece of theatre filled with characters that will really resonate.
Brummies – get yourself on the train to Stratford-Upon-Avon for a proper bostin’ night at the theatre, it really is unmissable.
On at the RSC’s Swan Theatre until the 23rd of February, tickets and information can be found online here.