Two faces of faith

Category: Snatch Review | Posted by: admin
Article Date: November 9, 1998 | Publication: The Times (London) | Author: Jeremy Kingston
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Soho Theatre Company was quick off the mark with a lottery bid and its smart Pounds 10 million building in Dean Street, W1, now looks a snip for that location. Another year must go before the new doors open, but this four-week season of new plays at the Pleasance in North Road, N7, is to keep us aware of the company's existence. Each play has only a week's run and, unusually for today although once common practice, is rehearsed for just one week.

Nicholas McInerny, author of the first play, Belle Fontaine, recently wrote a skilful sequel to Silas Marner (staged this year at the Orange Tree), and again finds an intriguingly oblique entrance to his subject. Here it is a sequestered Christian community whose Yea and Nay-saying members have been evidently riven by doubts since the death of their spiritual leader.

This emerges gradually - and McInerny is without doubt a gradualist - in the course of the annual visit of a cloth salesman with the season's new ranges for their simple robes. His arrival has always represented a rare entry of colour into sober lives, and it is the same this year but seriously different. Although the cutting in Jonathan Lloyd's production is uneven between the kitchen scenes, where the samples are being spread, and Sarah Howe's Sister Louise, alone in her room arguing with Jesus about vanity, the revelations in the scenes themselves are subtly managed. Good playing too from Paul Ritter's salesman, determination shot with unease, and Mary MacLeod's Sister Iris, upright but wilting.

Peter Rose's alarming Snatch, written when he was 19, also brings Jesus into its story, not simply because Gerard Butler's dashingly handsome Paul and Lise Stevenson's Beth, the fellow student he brings back to his rooms to rape, are both children of vicars but because Paul and Beth move into each other's bodies. Beth proceeds to work a terrible revenge on the flesh she is temporarily inside, leaking a lot of convincing blood.

Although an actor playing a woman inhabiting a man's body is seemingly easier to do than the other way round, Stevenson makes much of the bitter truculence at work. The alteration in Butler's features is remarkable: a delicacy somehow informs the rugged cheeks, a capacity for softness in the eyes. Polly Teale's direction turns the screw in a remarkable first play.

Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Limited