Review: Goodness gracious me! RSC's new Tartuffe is an enjoyable skewering of religious hypocrisy

Asif Khan as Tartuffe
Asif Khan as Tartuffe

Peter Ormerod reviews Tartuffe, presented by the RSC at the Swan Theatre, Stratford

Molière’s 17th-century comedy of hypocrisy and ostentatious piety finds new colour and potency in this daring adaptation. True to form, Anil Gupta and Richard Piunto - the creative forces behind television hits Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42 - have transposed the setting from aristocratic France to a Muslim household in modern-day Birmingham. The result is an enjoyable skewering of religious exploitation and an insightful examination of the temptations of fundamentalism.

It’s a loud, brash and sweary production, whose coarseness and vulgarity Molière would surely relish. Tartuffe - who here has the full name Tahir Taufiq Arsuf - has inveigled himself into the home of the Pervaiz family, having convinced putative patriarch Imran of the need to repudiate Western values of materialism and status. All the while, Tartuffe seeks to take advantage of his hosts, materially and, to his downfall, sexually.

Asif Khan’s Tartuffe is simultaneously otherworldly and earthly; Simon Nagra’s Imran is a picture of overcompensated-for insecurity. Zainab Hasan, as sharply progressive stepdaughter Mariam, and Sasha Behar, as Imran’s wife Amira, are among the strongest performers. But it’s Michelle Bonnard as cleaner Darina who holds the show - and the household - together.

While not for everyone, Iqbal Khan’s production offers plenty to laugh about - and think about.

* Tartuffe runs until February 23. Visit www.rsc.org.uk/tartuffe to book.