SINS OF A PREACHER-MAN
Admit it, ladies. Within the most modestly-clothed and lipstickless of us pale white matrons, there lurks a sneaky wish to be – just for an hour or two – poured into a tight snakeskin dress, rechristened “Peaches”, and able to snarl “When God made me She broke the mould – put an earthquake in the sway of my hips, a hurricane in the curve of my stride and a tornado in the whip of my hair…Even when I’m a disaster, I’m a natural disaster,! This body is a gift and I will unwrap it as much as I see fit. I am a prize! Uh-huh!”. So thank you, Adjoa Andoh, for the brief fantasy. You did it for all of us.
And thanks to Sharon D.Clarke for the other female role model, the majestic pastor’s wife, first drumming up support in a rich gospel contralto for her venal fraudulent husband (“The preacher who can reach ya and teach ya..”) and then defying him. Oh yes, the women win all right in Marcus Gardley’s poetically eloquent, often peculiar, farcical-satirical echo of Moliere’s Tartuffe tale of a hypocritical cleric exploiting a bourgeois family whose head is dying and fears hell .
A problem is that this burst of manic female energy – and the full enslavement and rebellion of the family against Apostle Tardimus Toof – doesn’t happen until the far more interesting second act. There is some pleasure earlier on, not least because Toof is the magnificent Lucian Msamati – the RSC’s black Iago, no less. He does the villain proud in pointy shoes, hellfire sermons, weasel charm and correct terror of his majestic wife. He inveigles himself into the household : there’s Wil Johnson as the ailing Organdy, a gay son, the mistress Peaches, and a tribal-hip daughter, born Britney but self-styled “Africa Adewunme Wakajawaka X’tine. It means she who laughs like the hyena, bathes like the hippo, hunts like the lioness and walks like the dodo bird in the nighttime”. Good black-on-black mockery, though it doesn’t contribute much to the actual story.
The problem with that first act is that many such terrific lines and jokes are – despite the director being the normally savvy Indhu Rubasingham – half-buried under far too much shouting. And, once the Mexican maid joins in , under an overly intense outbreak of comedy accents at full volume. The seduction plot gets buried , as do the financial issues (which Moliere so cherished). Msamati gives his lines plenty of light and shade, but Wil Johnson needs to take the volume down six notches, as do several others in that section. I kept wanting to love the show for its exuberance, and just failing.
Until the second act. The duel and reconciliation of Peaches and the pastor’s wife is splendid, and there is an unmissable, satirically ferocious attempt by Toof to exorcise the son’s gayness with an exorcism banishing “ponytails and painted nails, muscle tees, and Elton John CDs. Except the LIon King. I dispatch angels” – he cries “ to uncross your legs, make you sit through Saving Private Ryan and break things for no apparent reason..”
See? I’m off again, quoting, because Gardley writes like a good angel. And the second act really is a treat. Not least because – no spoilers – there is not only a full-on farcical eavesdrop sequence, but a climax: a genuinely shocking, perilously cynical, ferociously political and dismaying Arturo Ui moment. Which nobody expected. And which works.
box office 0207 328 1000 to 14 November