A must-see night of theatre exploring families, religion, loss and love
Hannah ( Kazia Pelka) is a American Episcopalian vicar (Church of England equivalent). She’s just had an email from a wealthy Egyptian family who say they have an explosive document – the first Gospel written about Christ – way before the first four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – which may change the way we think about Christianity.
Hannah interviews a young writer with religious credentials, Brandt, (Mateo Oxley) to ghost write her book. Enter her son, the peripatetic Thomas (Michael James) who has returned from a hike where his father, her husband, died in a lake when she was pregnant. Was it an accident or suicide?
Hannah persuades Brandt to get into a relationship with Thomas. He seems to needs persuading, his father is dying, but he is gay and what does the church think about that? The two young men connect. But then Hannah accidentally reveals her part in getting them together.
It is an explosive night that looks at fathers, earthly and omniscient, mothers ditto, sons ditto, religion, belief, non-belief and, most of all, love.
The three actors are tremendous. On review night Pelka had a line wobble that Oxley tried to rescue her from but that did not detract from her complex, emotive performance of a mother looking after her flocks – those who she professionally works with, her difficult relationship with her son and, possibly manipulative, relationship with Brandt.
Oxley gives a tremendous performance as a young man struggling with his father’s dying and a potential life he might have with Thomas. James storms it, characterising a complex young man who we laugh and weep with. The two have a wonderful, believable and very touching relationship and the audience is rooting with them all the way, however it evolves.
The set was well thought out. Lots of books in Hannah’s library and an amusing touch about a library with no bookshelves – the son with a tool belt trying to put up the shelves.
Director Paul Higgins must be congratulated for his staging, scene changes and getting a stonking performance out of his cast.
This was the European opening for American playwright Keith Bunin, the son of half-Jewish, lapsed Catholic parents with Quaker credentials. He knows what he is writing about. The play has had rave reviews in the US and that is not surprising. A sensitive, and intelligent, piece of writing.
The title comes from a prayer by Cardinal Newman about the need for holy rest. A fabulous, emotive and thought-provoking piece of writing. Go see it. You won’t get a better night out. May your God, or lack of one, be with you.
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Reviewer Kate Pettigrew is a journalist, playwright and director. Her plays have covered subjects including Brexit, dementia and talking sheep. She also contributes to the London Playwrights Blog.