A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes

Marcus Gardley
Tricycle Theatre

Adjoa Andoh (Peaches), Lucian Msamati (Toof) Credit: Mark Douet
Michelle Bonnard (Maxine), Ayesha Antoine (Afreeka Organdy), Lucian Msamati (Toof), Wil Johnson (Organdy), Karl Queensborough (Gumper) Credit: Mark Douet
The Cast led by Sharon D Clarke Credit: Mark Douet

Molière would certainly recognise and might even approve of this inconsistent but at times very funny updating of his classic satire on religious hypocrisy.

Given the alternative title of The Gospel of Tartuffe, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes has relocated the tale from 17th-century France to Atlanta, Georgia today.

While the presentation in Indhu Rubasingham’s deliberately flashy production could hardly be more different, the underlying themes remain pretty much intact during a 2¼-hour performance that starts with Sharon D Clarke leading an enthusiastic and tuneful gospel choir comprising the remainder of the cast.

They introduce Lucian Msamati, expertly portraying a rhinestone spangled charlatan preacher humbly named The Righteous Reverend Prelate Prophetic Apostle Tardimus Tito Jermaine Toof. Despite having as silver a tongue as ever appears on those American Christian TV channels, the holy man is struggling to make ends meet, much to the distress of Ms Clarke playing his put-upon wife and the church’s First Lady Loretta.

After catching him with one nubile blonde too many, Mrs Toof issues the ultimate ultimatum that unless he can re-float the church within seven days, she will depart.

When all hope seems lost and only prayer remains, along comes the matriarch of the Organdy family to announce that her wealthy son is on his last legs and needs to feel the Reverend's healing hands. Quite why Angela Wynter’s comic creation then disappears rather than joining the family is never explained.

In any event, the modern Tar Toof arrives at the lavish home of Wil Johnson playing Archie Organdy (a latter-day Orgon) to begin working his miraculous way around a suitably eccentric family.

It takes but a moment to persuade the dying man that he can see the light, while, not too long afterwards, Karl Queensborough as son Gumper is cured of his homosexuality, rather incongruously becoming an African-American redneck.

Healthy cynicism belongs to the female members of the household, Adjoa Andoh leading the way as Organdy's raunchy fiancée, former pole dancer Peaches.

Similarly uncertain about the provenance of the Reverend are Ayesha Antoine and Michelle Bonnard, respectively portraying daughter of the house Africa (née Britney) and feisty Mexican wetback maid, Dorita.

By the interval, those who do not know the original might begin to wonder both whether the preacher might actually have mystical powers and, as significantly, if he could get rich anyway.

The second half allows Lucian Msamati to capitalise on the opportunities given by this role, ending the evening with a finely delivered, amoral speech that refuses to tie up loose ends and provides a challenging view of the failure of The Great American Dream. Before that, the two leading ladies, Sharon D Clarke and Adjoa Andoh, also get to speak powerfully, ensuring that the feminist message gets across loud and clear.

A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes can be a little hit and miss but there are some genuinely funny scenes, while Molière/Gardley between them present some thought-provoking ideas about life today and, at one remove, in the Frenchman's time 350 years ago.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher