Haggard doesn’t reveal the dark side of this fascinating scandal, but the Attenborough-Michell partnership remains strong, writes BETH GREAVES.

america religion ted haggard

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tue 19th – Sat 23rd February, £6/£5

by Harry Michell and Will Attenborough

directed by Will Attenborough


Ted Haggard: evangelical preacher. Father to millions of Americans, advisor to the advisors of the Whitehouse. Until a male prostitute names the great man as one of his clients.

From the beginning, this Corpus show glows. The set is the Haggard kitchen, an all-American bubble of family photographs, expensive knick-knacks and oppressive wallpaper. The lighting is gorgeous and the bursts of recorded audience chatter and interview clips are chilling.

Ted Haggard (James Ellis) opens the show, addressing the audience like his ‘flock’. The private is public for Ted Haggard, as the action melts into his sermon to his new neighbours, their devoted followers – Cate and Lorne (Ellen Robertson and Hugh Stubbins), who coo over the Haggards’ perfect marriage and the pastor’s rising fame.
In this promising opening, Will Attenborough and Harry Michell’s wonderful script seems to breathe with life and rhythm. The audience laugh enthusiastically, accentuating a lingering tension.

A tension soon realised. When Mike (Alex Mackeith) enters the Haggard home, Ted’s face drops and his Pastor-Dad cheer withers. Within minutes, Mike is spilling the story. He’s called into a radio show and everyone is about to know Ted Haggard’s secret.

Mackeith is fantastic in his one scene. The atmosphere rises to almost unbearable levels as he confronts Ted, shifting between Mike’s uncertain motives and fragile loyalties. Why does he seek revenge on Ted? For abandoning him, for having a life he wants, for simply being one of many disrespectful ‘clients’? Mackeith twitches his way through all of Mike’s conflicting emotions, and the aftershock trembles throughout the play.

Hellie Cranney is another standout as Ted’s humiliated wife, Gayle. In fact, Gayle receives so much emotional attention that she could possibly be the ‘Haggard’ of the title, rather than her husband. Their college-aged children are always somewhere offstage and, while they might have made interesting characters, Cranney is such a gripping presence that she is capable of carrying the family storm alone. She dominates the Haggard’s final confrontation, in which his lies and delusions unravel in front of them, and the last monologue truly belongs to her.

If Haggard stumbles at all, it is in the character at the core. Ellis is good as the repressed pastor, embodying his sanctimonious hypocrisy, but Attenborough and Michell shy away from delving too deep into Haggard the man.

The audience waits, and the mask never quite falls. Ted and the script sidestep crucial questions about his feelings for Mike and Gayle, substituting superficial details of the affair and an inarticulate burst of emotion for genuine insight. By barely hinting at the answer to ‘why?’ Michell and Attenborough can’t quite grab the larger questions that hang over Haggard – exploitation of power, self-delusion and repression remain unexamined concepts.

Reaching for an ambiguous Haggard, the show becomes noncommittal. Still, even as he melts into thin air, the show remains solid. For superb writing and excellent performances, Haggard is something to see.