St. Peter’s Church is the perfect setting for a play that’s set in a church, and when you enter the building you’re met with bucketfuls of haze and atmosphere – and plenty of jazz too, which felt perhaps a little incongruous! Pastor Stanley is sitting there welcoming you, and once the play gets underway he takes up the microphone and affirms that God is good, with all that credible zeal of a TV evangelical minister. Hidden in a corner of the choirstalls loafs Kevin, a homeless guy, very much down on his luck, but who is hoping that Stanley’s charity will be able to house him – he’s top of the list, apparently, so the chances are looking good. Enter Victoria, Kevin’s sister, a hard-nosed journalist with a suspicious mind. She and her brother have been estranged for some time, but she reckons she’s on to Stanley. Does she have evidence to suggest that his charity work is a cover up for something more devious and sinister? And just where do Thomas and the others who have already been rehoused actually live?
What sets this production apart from the other Flash Festival shows I’ve seen so far this year is that they have been relatively simplistic and naturalistic in their staging, but this is a much more elaborate show. The smoke effects, the jazz; the physical theatre mime routines that interrupt the flow of the story to represent (I think) the emotions of the protagonists; the sea of torn up newspapers thrown like confetti, representing (maybe) journalists’ stories of the past that no longer have currency. There are some elements here that deliberately unsettle and complicate things for the audience; done carelessly that could annoy us, but this is intriguing and strangely beguiling.
It is a perplexing story, that builds to an eerie and unexpected climax; and the final tableau rather suggests the triumph of evil over good, which feels unsettling in a church. Mo Samuels takes the role of Stanley, smart in his shiny steely grey jacket, and looking every inch the respectable, and definitely not impoverished, cleric. He’s great addressing the audience with his semi-sermons, getting under our skin and making us believe he’s a good man… isn’t he? When we find out about the real Stanley – or is it Cyrus – Mr Samuels gives us a chilling unhinged characterisation that makes you feel vulnerable sitting in the front row! A very disturbing (and excellent) performance.
Terell Oswald is the homeless Kevin, humiliated to stand before us with his ragged sleeping bag, just looking for 30p from anyone who’ll give it. What I really enjoy about Mr Oswald’s performance is that, for a relatively big bloke, he’s enormously nimble – he gives all us chunkier chaps hope! It’s a very enjoyable physical performance, with some very nice flashes of humour despite the darkness of Kevin’s life.
Chloe Hoffmeister plays journalist Victoria, a smart portrayal of a confident woman in a tough world who knows what she wants and how to get it; she’s also great at showing us her panic-stricken fears when she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Again, another excellent performance.
As for the play itself, I felt it could have been a little tighter in construction and felt just a tad long, but I really enjoyed the performances and the shock ending certainly leaves you wondering!