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Keith? review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a tepid and flippant farce’

Josep Millson in Keith? at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Idil Sukan
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Drawing heavily on Moliere’s fearlessly irreverent satires, Patrick Marmion’s Keith? is a flippant farce revolving around a South African arms dealer passing himself off as a new age guru. He also happens to be a personification of Dionysus, though one whose sexual ambiguity and need to punish vanity are left under-explored.

Comparisons with Anil Gupta’s bold 2018 reframing of Tartuffe for the Royal Shakespeare Company are unavoidable – both stick close to the source material while riffing on contemporary tensions around race and religion. But for all its name-checking of current social issues – transphobia, climate change denial, online trolling – this is a tepid and thoroughly traditional comedy.

Director Oscar Pearce sets the energy level high and quickly whips things up into ludicrous silliness as hitmen are hired and unlikely secrets are exposed. The production toes a fine line here, ridiculing lazy stereotypes by presenting them at their most grotesque. Lizzie Winkler’s work-shy, dictatorship-loving Brazilian cleaner Anna is an outrageous and deeply uncomfortable comic creation.

Mark Jax manages to remain strangely likeable as the bewildered and blissfully ignorant millionaire being taken for a ride, while Natalie Klamar fizzes with repressed entitlement as his daughter Roxy, unable to perceive the incompatibility between her all-embracing morality and the conservative lifestyle she craves.

Fittingly, Joseph Millson dominates the show as the titular con artist, all wolfish grins and charismatic confidence, concealed by a persuasive layer of false modesty. Ultimately, he’s the architect of his own comeuppance, restoring balance to a world of seemingly intractable intolerance.

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Verdict
Shallow satire that scrambles Moliere’s Tartuffe into an energetic but unsatisfying comedy
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