Get ready for a French classic – with a Brummie twist.
Tartuffe is a comedy by French writer Moliere, first performed in 1664. But now it’s being staged by Birmingham Rep, so it’s being brought up to date and performed with Brummie accents.
The title role is taken by Harry Potter star Mark Williams, while Birmingham comedy actress Janice Connolly plays the lady of the house.
She is Madame Pernelle, the mother of wealthy Orgon, who have both fallen under the spell of Tartuffe and invited him into their home.
He is a spiritual adviser but a pious fraud, someone who just pretends to be charming and respectable.
Mark, 54, was born on a council estate in Meritts Brook near Northfield before moving to Bromsgrove, where his parents still live.
After an English degree at Oxford University, his acting career began with the Mikron Theatre Company, travelling the Midlands by canal narrowboat.
He found fame on The Fast Show and has also appeared in Shakespeare in Love, Doctor Who, Being Human and as Ron Weasley’s father Arthur in the Harry Potter films.
But the Aston Villa fan keeps finding his way back to Birmingham. This is where he makes the award-winning BBC1 drama Father Brown, a second series of which is screened in January, and where he’s about to star as Tartuffe.
He says: “I love working in Birmingham and it will be special to play at the Rep.
“It will be good to put our take on Tartuffe. The content is still very relevant and interesting today. Hypocrisy applies to a lot of things at the moment, and not just religion – I’m thinking especially of politics.
“Forward is the motto of Birmingham and it’s a city which has kept going. And what is happening now, especially around Centenary Square, is brilliant. The Rep is 100 years old and we’ve got the best library in Europe. That’s something to be celebrated.”
Janice Connolly says of Tartuffe: “He’s a holy person, a bit like a spiritual adviser that someone like Madonna might use.
“He seems devout but is actually a huge hypocrite.
“I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Moliere before I took the part, but I’ve discovered what a great writer he is. And like all good writing, it stands the test of time.
“It was written 350 years ago but it deals with universal and timeless themes. My character ends up feeling very let down because she really believed in Tartuffe.
“There’s been a lot of that going on recently – people being held up as really good, then eventually we find out they were serving their own interests and abusing their power.
“We are not setting it in any particular time period – it’s quite a modern adaptation – and we are doing it with Brummie accents. Madame Pernelle is posh so I talk like I’m from Solihull or Sutton Coldfield.
“The whole thing has got a Made In Birmingham stamp on it and the idea is that the characters are accessible. They are people that we recognise.
“I have a massive great wig like Marge Simpson, it’s great fun.”
Mother-of-two Janice lives in Kings Heath. She’s a stand-up comedian who appears under her alter ego of Barbara Nice. As an actress, she was spotted by Peter Kay who gave her a part in Phoenix Nights and she also played his mother in Coronation Street.
Janice, 59, first appeared at the Rep in 1998 when Birmingham hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, and she co-wrote the spoof Boom-Brum-A-Bang!
It was staged at The Door studio but Tartuffe is Janice’s first venture on to the main stage.
“It’s a thrill to be working with Mark Williams for the first time, he’s such a good comedian and so supportive of Birmingham.
“And the Rep’s artistic director Roxana Silbert is brilliant, we’re very lucky to have her.
“It’s great that she wants to put more Brummies on the stage. For too long it didn’t feel like that was the case. That kind of sense of identity seeps through to the audience, who feel they are being represented.
“It really feels like there’s a renaissance in Birmingham with the new library and reopening of the Rep. It feels so busy and vibrant, there’s a buzz about the place and a real sense of pride.
“It’s great and about time too – it’s been a long time coming.”
* Tartuffe runs at Birmingham Rep from November 1-16. For tickets ring 0121 236 4455 or go to www.birmingham-rep.co.uk .