National Theatre until 10th July 2010
This new play by Drew Pautz begins with a contemporary argument and one familiar to the readers of this publication; how to reconcile the evangelical beliefs of African Anglicans and the more tolerant approach made by the Church of England to the subject of homosexuality. Set at a hotel in Africa (the country is not specified), bishops from across the globe are meeting to determine the approach of the Anglican Communion to this live issue.
The prose is sparking and witty, raising real debate and conflict while at the same time raising some genuine laughs as the clergy from around the world try and grapple with the very real problem of the approach to gay clergy. But then the play becomes a little muddled. Michael played by Jonathan Cullen, a lay volunteer at the conference has sex with a hotel porter, Joseph played by Fiston Barek.
When the action moves to Britain, we see that Michael is living the life of a supposed straight, married evangelical Christian. And Michael is having real trouble at home because his wife is desperate for them to try IVF despite his moral doubts about it.
As one can predict, Joseph arrives in the country and ropes Michael into helping him seek assylum in Britain following an attack on him because of a homosexual relationship being discovered. But Joseph is a really unappealing character, he is hurtful to Michael and is incredibly angry, for reasons that aren’t really explained. Consequently, I found it hard to feel any emotion or sympathy for the character.
The play climaxes with an encounter with a bishop brilliantly played by Ian Redford pretty much modelled on Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury who grapples with the problems of homosexuality and asylum.
It’s welcome to see a play on at the National Theatre that deals with such a contemporary issue for our community. It’s a shame that what begun as a gripping and pretty accurate fly-on-the-wall observation of the debates going on within the Church got so muddled with the sex lives of rather unappealing characters.