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Tartuffe, The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon - review with pictures

Moliere's classic comedy which shone a light on religious hypocrisy in 17th century Catholic France is here daringly set in the Pakistani Muslim community of present-day Birmingham. Risky, or what.

Tartuffe. Photo by Topher McGrillis
Tartuffe. Photo by Topher McGrillis

The play was so provocative in Moliere's time that it was banned after the Church kicked up a fuss. People were still being burned at the stake back then.

Today, with the rise in fundamentalist Islam, get the tenor wrong and the stakes are still high. Different religion, different age, same tensions.

But in the hands of TV writers Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, who were behind Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42, Stratford audiences can breathe easy. The pair tread a careful but riotous path through the plot, while remaining faithful to Moliere's ability to shock.

Here Imran, head of the well-to-do Pervaiz family, who boast Norwegian spruce decking and a Mercedes on the drive, meets the apparently devout Tahir Taufiq Arsuf, or Tartuffe, at the local mosque who urges him to cast off the shackles of Western consumer society so that he can get his hands on the family's bank account.

Tartuffe. Photo by Topher McGrillis

Imran, in turn, tries to convert his sceptical family to 'proper Pakistani Islam'. Gender politics are high on the agenda, with issues about the place of women in Islam and the wearing of the hijab coming under the comic spotlight.

Daughter Mariam is a strident feminist studying the relationship between power and gender in Sub-Sahara Africa at university but feels helpless in suburban Brum to prevent her own arranged nuptials when her dad tries to marry her off to Tartuffe.

Tartuffe. Photo by Topher McGrillis

They all have personal crises, and it is left to the straight-talking Bosnian cleaner Darina, with her dyed blond hair and tight skirt, to sort out their mess. She tells it how it is and gets away with it because, master stroke, she is also a Muslim.

One of her rants, about men defending their women's honour - "It's not about women's honour, it's about men's pride" - gets a spontaneous round of applause.

The Baroque music of Moliere's time is replaced by beatbox, sitar and Black Sabbath. His rhyming verse is revered in rap, in rhymes like 'angrily' and 'Dairylea'. It's funny, it's clever, it's a delicious mish-mash that reflects the best as well as the worst of multicultural West Midlands.

Tartuffe. Photo by Topher McGrillis

Apparently, when offered the gig by RSC artistic director Greg Doran, Gupta and Pinto had to google Moliere – and Tartuffe – and Doran. This Tartuffe certainly feels unburdened by previous productions. It is fresh, original and totally joyous.

Runs until February 2019.

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