Ecclesiastical Perks

JESSICA PATTERSON is left feeling dissatisfied by a fumbling attempt at a theatrical climax.

catholic Corpus Playroom Jessica Patterson juan zober de francisco persecution priest sexual abuse Theatre

Corpus Playroom, 23-27th November, 9.30 pm. £5-6

Written & Directed by Michael Christie


Watching this play was like sinking into tepid bathwater with a mouthful of soggy tea bags; the remnants of a mundane wet-weekend imposing themselves violently upon me.

I really wanted to like this. I liked the idea; a well meaning catholic priest is falsely accused of abusing a student and people’s prejudices pervert the course of justice. But, instead of  ‘a darkly comic play that follows one man’s struggle to maintain both his faith and his good reputation’ I got quite a nice play with a thoroughly unconvincing narrative. This piece of new writing, like so many before it, was riddled with inconsistencies and weak dialogue. It was a drama without any drama. Despite the controversial subject matter the script had all the energy of a  cake sale at an Anglican church.

This was a welcome attempt to grapple with contemporary Issues. Theatre is a fine forum for social commentary. But theatre should also be a forum for theatre.  The script adequately dealt with the issue of persecution; demonstrating the injustice of people’s virulent responses to unproven ‘accusations’ and the the accused’s resultant isolation. Yet it did so more like a public-information broadcast than a play. It was like the kind of video about bullying or teenage pregnancy that a citizenship lesson would ram down your throat.

Michael Christie failed to demonstrate any awareness of theatrical convention, technique or style. There was no tension, there were no constraints and there was a desperate lack of action. A series of dry dialogues, saved by the occasional joke and crucified by others, were performed by a cast of one dimensional characters sat stiffly on opposing chairs.

The narrative itself suffered from a series of tenuous links. The preparation for the doubts about the Father’s character was poor. In his interview feeble attempts at innuendo such as, ‘I have plenty of experience with young kids’ and ‘I’ll be hard on them’ were supposed to be grounds for the head teacher’s suspicions. Likewise the ‘problem’ class of this inner-city Bradford school was more like a Sunday school group. Their unruly behaviour amounted to tactically deployed coughs and sighs in what was admittedly a very boring lesson (or, more accurately, scene).

The very circumstances of the accusation itself were hard to believe. The claim is fabricated by two boys who then persuade a girl to come forward on their untrustworthy behalf. Not only was their ‘persuasion’ as discreet as Juan’s dressing gown, the girl was also unfeasibly thick. All this made for a very unconvincing backdrop to the play’s abrupt climax. This amounts to Fr Andrews kicking over a chair, the first bit of theatrical interest. Promising stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree, but unsatisfactorily followed by a weak denouement in which the girl retracts the allegations and he simply goes home.

Unsatisfactory performances contributed to this climactic failure. George Potts, as Fr Andrews, did well with the lack of depth in the script by managing to create the only genuine moments of dramatic substance. At times, however, his comedic background lent his monologues the rhythm of a stand-up act. Likewise, Giulia Galastro, playing a sanitised version of Craggy Island’s Mrs Doyle, managed a convincing performance. The total lack of humanity behind every part, however, made it difficult to truly believe in any of them. Catholicism is meant to test your faith, character development is not.

What bemused me was that this managed to sound like an afternoon radio play without being about the Church of England. Come on, this is the Catholic Church; there’s wine, imagery and ritual! If that’s not the setting for theatrical tension nothing is. When asked why he always had a catholic protagonist, Graham Greene answered that the stakes were always higher. The play appeared to miss this very point. The characters were sacrificed to the script and that to its message. A noble intention lost in hasty execution.