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The Theatreguide.London Review

A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes
Tricycle Theatre   Autumn 2015

Clever fellow, that Moliere, but awfully difficult to imitate. Marcus Gardley's modern-dress take on Tartuffe, and Indhu Rubasingham's production, each have their moments, but too often are visibly working too hard and just missing the mark. 

In the American South a black holy-roller preacher and faith healer can't escape a financial hole because his compulsive womanising keeps distracting him from the job of fleecing the faithful. 

So he leaps at the invitation to use his healing powers on a dying millionaire, and soon has his patient signing everything over to him. Can the combined powers of the preacher's wife, the millionaire's girlfriend and a clever maid defeat him? 

Following Moliere, Gardley writes in rhymed couplets, always harder to pull off in English than French, though the frequent internal rhymes, inexact rhymes and other wordplay sometimes give it the sound of rap. 

And Gardley can't resist the temptation to show off. Lines like 'the sultan of soul who can save your soul by spinning on the soles of his snakeskin shoes' and 'Any apostle who postulates so profoundly on the Apocalypse can be in my posse' can be fun if sprinkled sparingly, but begin to get distracting and even annoying after a while. 

The play's language also causes problems for the actors, none of whom seem comfortable with the rhyming, unsure from minute to minute whether to punch it up, glide through it or pretend it isn't there. 

So all the performances suffer from a visible hesitancy that keeps the actors from immersing themselves in the characters or the play's constantly shifting reality. 

That's another problem director Rubasingham hasn't solved. Gardley's text keeps shifting from something like realism to stylised artifice to direct audience address to spirited gospel singing and back again, and the director doesn't navigate the changes in mode smoothly. 

Of course there are effective moments. The preacher's interrupted attempt to seduce a dimwitted parishioner and Gardley's version of Moliere's hiding-under-the-table scene are both delightfully farcical. 

The millionaire's girlfriend defends her sexiness in a comically eloquent speech that inspires cheers from the women in the audience, and a saying of grace elides into a near-pornographic description of the wondrous foodstuffs awaiting the diners that evokes Steven Berkoff at his obscene best. 

But the overall effect is of a difficult and somewhat self-indulgent text, and of a director and actors led by Lucian Msamati as the preacher, Sharon D. Clarke as his formidable wife and Adjoa Andoh as the sexpot who work very hard but cannot conquer its challenges.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes - Tricycle Theatre 2015


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