Review: Keith? A Comedy, Arcola Theatre

Joseph Milson as Keith in Keith? A Comedy picture Idil Sukan

Joseph Milson as Keith in Keith? A Comedy picture Idil Sukan - Credit: Archant

Gloriously silly reworking of Moliere’s Tartuffe stutters with an inconsistent tone but comes good at the end to lampoon Britain’s crumbling social structures

Sara Powell and Natalie Klamar in Keith? A Comedy picture by Idil Sukan

Sara Powell and Natalie Klamar in Keith? A Comedy picture by Idil Sukan - Credit: Archant

Kensal Rise playwright Patrick Marmion’s new play Keith? – his third for the Arcola – is a lively reworking of Moliere’s farce Tartuffe. Written in response to the Brexit shambles and the issues surrounding our ever-fragile and crumbling social structures – politics and religion are under keen attack here – Marmion hones in on one affluent upper-middle class London family who attempt to give meaning to the terrifying emptiness of their lives by espousing distant causes or random religions. The experienced cast tackle the piece with gusto – a tad too much gusto under Oscar Pearce’s game direction - and the production struggles to find a consistent tone or the universality of Moliere’s original.

The vagrant Tartuffe becomes Keith, a reformed South African gunrunner turned Buddhist guru who is out to fleece gullible start-up millionaire Morgan of the fortune he made with a pocket money app. Morgan’s ex-wife Veena, a Professor of Comparative Misanthropy, sees Keith for the parasitic fraudster he is and attempts to unmask him. When daughter Roxy reveals her intention of marrying new boyfriend Mo – the pair met in Syria doing aid work – Veena hires a Serbian hitman believing Mo is a jihadist. The chaos that ensues is a pleasingly predictable mish-mash of moral argument and topical issues: Brexit, #MeToo, Twitter trolling. The throwaway lines come thick and fast but the dialogue seems too pleased with itself. The setting is oddly imprecise: we are told Morgan has a large rambling estate but the hanging baskets that dominate the stage suggest a more suburban location.

Joseph Millson sports festival dreadlocks with aplomb and has an appealing mischievousness as the twisted contemporary Dionysus. Sara Powell as Veena rattles through the menopause jokes, establishing the character’s credentials well as a controlling ex-wife permanently on the edge. Particularly strong is Natalie Klamar as twitchy Roxy, ‘the prissy, entitled millennial.’ Lizzie Winkler as the family’s loudmouth cleaner Anna pulls out all the stops for what proves a thinly written stereotype.

At just over 90 minutes, the play shouldn’t tire but the first half stutters. It’s only in the final twenty minutes that the production crystallizes. The characters cease their verbose self- analyzing and a glorious silliness takes hold.