A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes review, at the Tricycle Theatre, London – ‘lively and satirical’
Lucian Msamati makes a welcome return to the Tricycle to play the title role in a new adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe by award-winning American playwright Marcus Gardley, whose The House That Will Not Stand was seen here in 2014.
The last time the actor appeared on this stage was in 2005/06, when he was part of the company that performed British versions of the American contemporary classics Walk Hard, Talk Loud, Fabulation and Gem of the Ocean.
Set in Atlanta, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes is both a musical satire and a moral tale of power and greed. Like all the best adapters, Gardley has completely reimagined the original story of Orgon and his infatuation with the hypocritical holy man Tartuffe, turning the originals into the multimillionaire Archibald Organdy and Apostle Toof, a flamboyant southern American preacher and faith healer.
Organdy, a widower whose fortune comes from selling fast food, is suffering from a terminal disease. Toof’s arrival results in Organdy’s conversion into a born-again Christian — to the dismay of his household. This comprises Peaches, his lover, Gumper, his gay son, Africa, his long-lost daughter, and Dorita, his Mexican maid. Add to this mix Toof’s wife, Lady Toof, and the comic feast begins to bubble. When Organdy decides, in a moment of religious excitement, to change his will, the family realise that they have to get rid of Apostle Toof.
Gardley’s text is written in a lively and highly coloured verse, whose rhymes are both comic and serve to underline its sparkling ideas. With some big themes of religious healing, ‘curing’ gays, exploring roots, and the relationship between men and women, this is a spirited satire whose cartoon characters occasionally reveal unexpected depths. The high points in an evening of joyful entertainment include an exorcism, a seduction, a verbal duel between Peaches and Lady Toof, and a tableau of the Last Supper. A chorus sings a handful of songs, thus setting the tone of Deep South religiosity, and these are mostly gospel numbers which mix parody and genuine uplift.
In Indhu Rubasingham’s raucous and funny production, Msamati is on fine form as the serpent-like Toof, a portrait combining creepiness and desperate ambition. The scene in which he says grace is a tour de force. Likewise, Wil Johnson’s Organdy is impressively versatile, and his rages are frankly terrifying. Just as appealing are the women, led by Adjoa Andoh’s vivid Peaches and Sharon D Clarke’s stately Lady Toof, and ably supported by Ayesha Antoine’s Africa and Michelle Bonnard’s maid. Karl Queensborough has fun with the part of Gumper, while Angela Wynter enjoys a short scene as Organdy’s mother.
Politically incorrect, often humorous, occasionally moving, this is a superior adaptation that sings, dances and rants its way to its dramatic conclusion, taking no hostages in its criticism of contemporary follies and entertaining us hugely all along the way.