On January 18 the LANS Cultural extravaganza had their first event of 2019 where over 20 students took the coach to the RSC Stratford to see a new version of Molière's satirical comedy Tartuffe by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto.

Tartuffe production photographs, directed by Iqbal Khan, performed in the Swan Theatre, 2018. Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

According to the RSC’s website Tartuffe is “a new wicked comedy about faith, comedy and #fakingit”. Tartuffe is all these things but, after thinking about parts of the comedy, Tartuffe was a tale of a crisis of identity. I felt that this was a very subtle theme in the play which I want to briefly explore further. 

Why do I say this? The comedy centres around the Parvez family and a man called Tartuffe who is taken into the Parvez’s household by the patriarch of the family, Mr Parvez. Mr Parvez met Tartuffe at the mosque and was taken aback by the intensity of Tartuffe’s praying. When Mr Parvez found out that Tartuffe was homeless, he offered him his own home as somewhere to stay and crisis ensued. Mr Parvez described himself as British Pakistani and saw something in Tartuffe that he thought he was missing in himself, such as a connection to God and faith which aligns with Mr Parvez’s notion of what a good British Pakistani is.

Through satire we see Mr Parvez stray further and further from his idea of being a good British Pakistani as he continues to follow the consul of Tartuffe, who he ascribes the honorific, Tartuffe-ji. In doing so, Mr Parvez alienates his family more and more until he nearly reaches the point of no return (it was a comedy and not a tragedy after all). 

Tartuffe production photographs, directed by Iqbal Khan, performed in the Swan Theatre, 2018. Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

For me, Tartuffe was in part a commentary on an identity crisis presented to all first-generation migrants, no matter which country they are from or go to. For these families, identity is confusing. For Mr Parvez, how does he live in the UK and still retain the fact he’s Pakistani to the extent that he is satisfied? How does somebody even do this? There is such a thing as being Pakistani but how does someone define this? It’s different for each person and an idea that constantly evolves. But in searching for something more, Mr Parvez does not try and define the idea of being Pakistani for himself, instead he looks for a definition of his identity from others. I think this was nuanced in moments of the play where the characters resorted to their mother tongue as opposed to English. When Mr Parvez disowned his son, he did so using a phrase more powerful than anything he could have said in English: mara-jia (drop dead). However, this is only one side of the story, Tartuffe has an identity crisis of his own.

This hits home quite a lot for me. I’ll never truly be English and I’ll never be truly Indian so how do I balance this? Society wants us to be absolutist, entirely one thing or another but why do the things that make us individual have to be in competition? Surely, they can and should be harmonious…

The comedy somewhat reminded me of a TED talk I went to 5 years ago which is definitely worth a watch.

Photos by Topher McGrillis © RSC