Journalist, theatre critic, university lecturer and playwright, Patrick Marmion, plunders Moliere’s Tartuffe and borrows a smidge from Shakespeare and Euripides, for his latest offering, a comedy called Keith? which opened this week at London’s Arcola Theatre.
While this poacher turned gamekeeper was reviewing a West End opening, I took the opportunity to check out his latest work.
The question mark, in case you were wondering, isn’t the titular character’s search for an identity but the revelation, no plot spoiler, that this charismatic conman has gone by many names, stretching right back to the Ancient Greek god of mischief, Dionysus.
But, in an era of fake news, you have to ask yourself whether he, and, in fact, all the characters, are capable of telling the truth or even living honestly.
Marmion has come up with a farce that is very loosely based on Tartuffe, a Moliere classic where a bogus shaman infiltrates a wealthy family in order to rob them of their riches and, in turn, expose their hypocrisy.
Set in the modern day, Keith? runs through a checklist of must haves – a radical, feminist academic; a former start-up millionaire who rejects materialism; an earnest, liberal-leaning, aid-worker; a trashy foreign cleaner; a dodgy East European, and, inevitably, an Islamic boyfriend with a suspicious past.
But standing head and shoulders above them all is the incorrigible Keith, who claims to have been a former South African gunrunner, now Buddhist monk and guru, who clearly knows a sucker when he meets one and is determined to royally rip him off.
Sexual and cultural stereotypes, Brexit (in every modern play and now getting so tedious), the state of the nation and every right-on, left-wing cause invented by the snowflake generation. It’s all here, crammed into about 90 minutes of manic storytelling.
The real highlight of the production is an outstanding turn by Joseph Millson as both the engaging Keith and an outlandish Serbian gangster. He’s hilarious.
It’s easy to see why millionaire Morgan, recovering from a heart attack, fell for Keith’s silky patter over a flat white in Costa.
Millson oozes charm by the bucket load even dressed up like an ageing hippy in dreads and harem pants. At least half the audience would probably invite this talented, likeable actor home to share their worldly wealth.
Here, the cheeky antihero inveigles himself into Morgan’s shallow life, much to the horror of his daughter, Roxy, and ex-wife Veena.
Sadly Keith himself isn’t surrounded by either a funny script, an entertaining plot or fleshed out characters.
Poor Sara Powell, as Veena, is burdened with a series of menopause jokes that only a man would find amusing, while Lizzie Winkler’s Brazilian cleaner, Anna, whose accent drifts around Italy and Spain before settling on South America, is an under-written caricature.
Most of the gags fall flat and the plot is absurd rather than funny. The cast is highly animated and some gesticulate wildly but it’s all overdone. Comic acting, even in a farce, deserves more finesse.
The full title of Marmion’s comedy is Keith? or Moliere Rewired but it contains none of the French playwright’s deft structure or polished wit.
An ambitious effort but lacking in depth or humour.
Keith? runs at the Arcola Theatre until March 9.
Keith? or Moliere Rewired
Patrick Marmion’s comedy, Keith? isn’t as funny as it could be but it’s boosted by a charismatic turn from Joseph Millson in the titular role.