Interview: Michelle Bonnard from Tartuffe at The RSC set in Birmingham

by Dave Massey twitter.com/brumhour

Tartuffe is a 1664 theatrical comedy by Molière and this autumn/winter is an RSC production at The Swan Theatre, in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 23rd February 2019. This production is set in.. Birmingham and specifically the muslim community of Birmingham.

Check out the trailer here:

#BrumHour was lucky enough to be able to pitch questions to Birmingham born actress Michelle Bonnard about this production and her role in it.


Birmingham actor Michelle Bonnard plays Darina in the RSC’s new production of Moliere’s classic farce, Tartuffe, which has been relocated to modern day Birmingham by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto.

Tartuffe rehearsal photograph: Michelle Bonnard photo by Topher McGrillis
Tartuffe rehearsal photograph: Michelle Bonnard photo by Topher McGrillis

Michelle, you hail from Birmingham. Can you tell us about your connections with the city and how you became an actor?

Michelle Bonnard: I was born in Birmingham at the old Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and apart from a few years in Croydon, lived in Birmingham until I was 19. My parents, one of my sisters and her family still live in Birmingham, so I spend a lot of time here. Birmingham still feels like home.

I started acting like everybody else does, in school plays. I was gutted not to be Mary in the school play, but it turns out King Balthazar was a better part! When I was at secondary school, The Central Junior Television Workshop came to visit our school and I auditioned for the workshop. It was a brilliant drama group, funded at the time by Central TV, where youngsters went once a week and learned all about acting, stage management, costume, writing, and all the things I was lucky enough to take into my career. Sadly the workshop doesn’t exist in Birmingham now, but ex-workshoppers have started their own drama groups, Drama Workshop and First Act Workshops – in fact, the RSC has been working with First Act Workshops bringing students to the theatre to see productions, so the tradition lives on. rsc.org.uk/news/first-act-workshops-and-the-rsc

For this production of Tartuffe, Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto have relocated the action to modern day Birmingham.  What can audiences expect from this production?

Michelle Bonnard: The play is set in the Parvaiz family house, a Pakistani family who live in the heart of Birmingham.

As an adaptation of Moliere’s classic Tartuffe, it is a farce, so it is full of silliness. The play made me laugh out loud when I first read it, so I hope the audience will have a great night out. Having said that, as well as being funny the audience can expect to be challenged and hear contemporary conversations in the mix.  There is something for everyone.

How does it feel seeing parts of Birmingham represented on the stage in this production of Tartuffe?

I’m really proud to see Birmingham represented on stage, especially at the RSC: Birmingham is so close to Stratford that I’ve always felt it should be one of Birmingham’s home theatresAnd there absolutely should be space for local audiences to see themselves reflected on the stage. Despite being from Birmingham I’m actually playing a Bosnian. The play has characters who hail from Kidderminster, Bosnia, Small Heath, and Rawalpindi.

Michelle Bonnard
Michelle Bonnard

How did you come to be part of this production? What drew you to the script of Tartuffe?

Like any other acting job, I got a script through from my agent and I auditioned. I read the script in one sitting, which is always a good sign, and it made me laugh out loud. Darina, the character I play in the show, was my favourite character from the off. Having said that, when I read the script for a second and then third time, there was another level to the characters, below the broad comedy, and I was hooked.

What can you tell us about Darina, the character you play?

Darina came to Birmingham from Bosnia in 1995 at the height of the Bosnian war. At some point, a few years later, she was kind of adopted by the Parvaiz family and taken into the fold. When Mrs. Parvaiz died, Darina became defacto mother but she was still young herself. Darina has built her life from scratch in Birmingham and despite her Bosnian roots, this is her home now.  Darina is a strong, caring, opinionated woman. She is utterly herself.

How do you think the portrayal – in the arts and media  – of Birmingham and its communities has changed over the last ten years?

I can talk a little about theatre and television here, but as I don’t live in Birmingham, I’m not going to talk about the arts as a whole. I think what we’re beginning to see, is a generation of creatives who grew up in the Midlands and are starting to take the helm. The work we’re seeing is becoming more diverse, inclusive and representative of the city.

Under Roxanna Silbert’s leadership, Birmingham Rep is becoming a destination theatre (again) for actors. The work the theatre is doing has more reach – co-productions with Manchester Royal Exchange and The National Theatre in London means the theatre is attracting consistently great writers and directors as well as performers which is really important.

We still have Doctors, which I love, and despite Peaky Blinders being filmed outside of Birmingham for the past few years, it still has its origins as a Birmingham show and Steven Knight’s plans to build a Studio in Birmingham are hugely exciting. I think Birmingham is on fire creatively right now, and it feels like it’s just the beginning.

Tartuffe runs in repertoire in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 23 February 2019. Tickets: 01789 403493 or rsc.org.uk/tartuffe


This isn’t a sponsored post. Look out for #BrumHour’s review of Tartuffe later this month.

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