Tag Archives: Cecilia Noble

“Is God Is” at the Royal Court Theatre

Whether young, middle-aged or old, the women in Aleshea Harris’ play are tired. Traumatised, abused, abandoned – or all three – what drives them is anger. Revenge and rage take their toll, but for the 90-minute duration of Is God Is they create an exhilarating piece – it’s the characters and not the audience who are exhausted.


A hit in New York, the play is a good fit for the Royal Court, where we expect to see the engaging of big themes and explorations of dialogue and theatrical form. And we’re used to a dark sense of humour, which this play takes to an extreme. Is God Is succeeds all round and stands out as original.


Harris’ use of dialect and characters’ deliberate inarticulacy is sophisticated. There are influences from hip-hop and Afropunk (excuse my ignorance – I’m trusting the back of the script on that). But the blunt statements and a new level of deadpan understatement make this murderous revenge story very funny.


As for form, the road trip that twins Racine and Anaia embark on engages with movies as much as the theatre. It’s an Americana tour from the “dirty South” to a not-so-wild West that ends with a showdown. The acceptance of a circle of violence is seldom questioned – as in a movie – which is surprisingly unsettling on stage. In her mad mash-up of Cain and Abel with an inverted sacrifice of Isaac, Harris isn’t scared to create a satire of biblical proportions.

Serious subjects? The title is hardly subtle. The twins’ long-missing mother is immediately and inexplicably identified as God. And ‘She’ issues the mission of murdering their father! Harris makes sure we question free will and plays with plenty of excuses for all kinds of inexcusable behaviour. Messages and morals are skilfully slippery, and audience complicity in blood lust manipulated. For all that praise, the larger motives behind Is God Is get lost.


Firstly, some especially vivid characters prove distracting. This isn’t an even-handed issue. With the men in the show the best we get is Mark Monero’s crisp father (who only appears in the penultimate scene). But the women in the play are – in every sense – fantastic. Both Cecilia Noble and Vivienne Acheampong, two very different kinds of mothers, have great roles that they develop marvellously. More of Acheampong’s Angie would be welcome: this bored housewife, who has her own plans, adds to the mix immeasurably. As for the leads – Tamara Lawrance and Adelayo Adedayo – are barely off the stage and don’t so much hold attention as grab and throttle it: “hard end” Racine and the emotional Anaia are a consistent, entertaining and invigorating pair.


Despite the bizarre premise and having its tongue firmly in its cheek (it really is funny) Is God Is triumphs with its plotting. How old fashioned! Ola Ince’s direction, and a set full of fun and signposts from Chloe Lamford, make this bloody journey breakneck. No matter how crazy, the story is driven impeccably. Gory and tense as well as sometimes silly makes for a fascinating and memorable production.

Until 23 October 2021

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Tristram Kenton

"Faith, Hope and Charity" at the National Theatre

Faith is missing. She’s a four-year old girl taken from her unstable mother and desperate older brother, brilliantly portrayed by Susan Lynch and Bobby Stallwood, in Alexander Zeldin’s new play. The heavy irony – that Faith never appears – sets the tone for this bleak piece, and there’s a sinking feeling throughout this painful look at the most vulnerable in our society.

Faith is present in one sense, as Zeldin places a lot of it in his audience’s patience. Directing his own work, the pace here is glacial: there’s little action, plenty of random conversations and, since the setting is a soup kitchen, lots of cooking and eating. I attended just after the press night and, regrettably, more than a few people left at the interval. But the verisimilitude achieved by all the detail here is remarkable. With the aid of Natasha Jenkins’ design and some marvellous lighting from Marc Williams, many of the short lines and tiny actions bring a tear to the eye. It isn’t easy viewing, but Zeldin’s bravery at demanding such patience creates powerful theatre.

Cecilia Noble and Nick Holder in 'Faith, Hope and Charity' at the National Theatre
Cecilia Noble and Nick Holder

Hope comes in the form of Mason, a role that Nick Holder makes his own. A volunteer with the choir at the community centre, he talks of “growth” and tries so hard to help it’s impossible not to adore him. Holder carefully hints at his character’s vulnerability from the start and, when we learn how damaged he really is (in a scene where both Holder and Lynch shine), the pain is raw. Although a leader for the group, Mason has as many problems as any of them and, as we see each of ensemble try so desperately to help – when they are so ill-equipped to do so – the play becomes heart-wrenching. The tiny gestures of concern and all the courtesy (I’ve never heard the word “sorry” spoken so many times in one play) are overwhelming as the problems each person faces are revealed. Alan Williams’ performance, as the eccentric Bernard, has to be highlighted: as the character sinks (there’s that word again) into dementia it becomes clearer how alone and helpless he is. The truth is that these people, each depicted so carefully by the ensemble, don’t have a chance in our society.

Alan Williams in 'Faith, Hope and Charity' at the National Theatre
Alan Williams

The neglect in Austerity Britain is all the crueller when it comes to what Zeldin sees as the greatest of these virtues. Charity defines the role of Hazel (Cecilia Noble), the manager and chef at the centre. It’s clear that she is an ideal for all these people, but the character is grounded by Noble, who makes no end of self-sacrifice believable. As the pressure mounts, in her personal life and over the future of the crumbling building, Noble’s performance goes from strength to strength. The achievements of Hazel and Mason, keeping people fed and arranging a small singing concert, aren’t small. But it’s no plot spoiler to say that Zeldin can’t give us a happy ending. Hazel hasn’t sung for years and, when she joins the ‘choir’, the result is a painful cry for help that confirms the play as a damning indictment of our times.

Until 12 October 2019

nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Sarah Lee

“Once A Catholic” at the Tricycle Theatre

A friend of mine used to describe himself as a ‘recovering’ Catholic. Indeed, the impact of the religion on those educated within the faith is well known. A revival of Mary J. O’Malley’s 1976 play, Once A Catholic, set in a convent school close to the Tricycle Theatre – where it opened last night – reminds us what fertile ground for comedy the subject is.

With director Kathy Burke in charge it’s no surprise that it’s all fantastic fun. The simple design has the feel of a sketch show, but Burke holds the drama together and gets the most out of her performers.

Three little maids are the focus. Amy Morgan and Katherine Rose Morley play two Marys, girls having a pretty good time. Their love interests, a Protestant teddy boy and a distinctly noncelibate upper-class toff who wants to be a priest, make great roles for Calum Callaghan and Oliver Coopersmith. Molly Logan playing, you guessed it, another Mary, heads the youngsters. Hopelessly naïve, her innocent questions, such as the nature of the sin of Sodom, disturb the teachers riotously.

The school staff are the best thing. There’s a dotty music teacher, played superbly by Richard Bremmer, and a thoroughly Irish priest, a role taken by Sean Campion. Both live up to every caricature and exploit them to the full. But really stealing the show are the nuns: another trio played by Clare Cathcart, Kate Lock and the scene-stealing Cecilia Noble.

Rich in nostalgia, Once A Catholic is set in 1957 and trades heavily on the innocence of the times to get laughs. The girls’ naivety makes it seem like ancient history and this distance also serves to lighten the casual racism and sexism of the times, sliding over some pretty seedy stuff. Humour is prioritised and Burke excels at this.

There’s little depth to the show, though it’s clear that ignorance is the thing to battle against. It’s a point the play makes well – with its educational setting and poor Mary’s dangerous unworldliness. But with all the fun, there’s little fight in the play; its sacrilegious lines don’t outrage and it lacks a good punch line. There are a lot of laughs to be had though. If it’s comedy you’re after, your prayers will be answered.

Until 18 January 2014

www.tricycle.co.uk

Written 28 November 2013 for The London Magazine