A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes, Tricycle Theatre, review: ‘Toothless slapstick’

A Wolf In Snake Skin Shoes at The Tricycle Theatre. Picture: Mark Douet

A Wolf In Snake Skin Shoes at The Tricycle Theatre. Picture: Mark Douet - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

This unsubtle update of Miliere’s Tartuffe misses its target, says Marianka Swain.

Last year, American playwright Marcus Gardley scored a hit at the Tricycle by transporting Lorca to 19th-century New Orleans. His loose adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe seemed equally promising - the hypocritical religious devotee becoming a Deep South charlatan preacher. But in Indhu Rubasingham’s unrelentingly broad production, the original’s subversive message is sacrificed for toothless slapstick.

Despite updating to the present Gardley’s is an old-fashioned piece, weirdly reminiscent of the creaky sex farce parodied in Noises Off. Apostle Toof chases nubile blondes and ineptly hides them from his formidable wife, while the wealthy family he infiltrates in hopes of funding his church are a collection of tired types: tyrannical tycoon, ex-stripper fiancé, Mexican maid, flamboyantly gay son, and daughter parading her newly discovered African roots like an insufferable gap year student. Subplots collide and fizzle in a breathless stream, characterised by cartoonish eavesdropping, plotting and soap operatic confrontations; like an unsubtle episode of Empire, played at deafening volume. There are also dodgy accents and sudden tonal lurches, with Gardley referencing gender inequality, homophobia and – interesting from a real-life son a preacher man – religious disillusionment in the face of an uncaring modern world.

The gospel interludes are enjoyable, as is the musicality of Gardley’s rich and rolling verse.. The mighty Sharon D Clarke leads the singing and provides the best scene, a face-off with voluptuous Adjoa, while Lucian Msamati is a persuasively devious Toof. More a mixed bag of sketches than a cohesive play, the pantomime quality means Molière’s real target – dangerous reliance on blind faith – emerges unscathed.

Rating: 2/5 stars