Having re-opened it’s doors on Centenary Square, squeezed in between the huge new library and the grand symphony hall, the Birmingham repertory theatre (the REP) has steadily been re-establishing itself with a fantastic and diverse range of productions. It was, therefore, a perfect setting for the newly updated version of Moliere’s french classic Tartuffe. For those who may not have come across it, Tartuffe is the story of a seemingly perfect man who worms his way into a wealthy french family, exploiting the father Orgon in order get closer to his money and his wife. Whilst Orgon is taken in by Tartuffe’s false devoutness, the rest of the family are not so sure. The play presents the various mishaps as the family try to convince Orgon of Tartuffe’s hypocrisy before it’s too late!
Keeping close to the original the REP’s version, directed by Roxana Silbert, was fast-paced and genuinely hilarious. Featuring outstanding performances from Ayesha Antoine as the frank servant who commanded every scene she appeared in and Paul Hunter as Orgon with some perfectly timed physical comedy. It was, however, Mark Williams in the lead role of Tartuffe that stole the show. I was initially skeptical about whether the actor we know best as Ron’s dad in Harry Potter would make a good fit as the conniving, arrogant Tartuffe. But, my doubts were immediately dispelled. Williams’ interpretation brought subtlety to a role that could be overblown and sending the audience into fits of laughter from just the raise of an eyebrow.
For a play which was originally set in 17th century France it was exceptionally well linked to Birmingham. Jokes involving the difficulties of parking during the Christmas market, the high-speed rail link and Wolverhampton had the audience in hysterics. Also, an awareness of the play as a work of theatre was hinted at throughout, breaking down the wall between audience and actors. With props thrown out into the audience, interaction directly with audience members and references to the interval, the audience were fully involved at all times.
Overall, it was great to see a play so brilliantly updated and so proud to be in Birmingham. An asset to the Birmingham arts and culture, with more productions like this the REP theatre will have thoroughly asserted its place in Centenary Square.