Magazine article The Spectator

Religious Skirmish

Magazine article The Spectator

Religious Skirmish

Article excerpt

Love the Sinner

Cottesloe, until 10 July

Ditch

Old Vic Tunnels, Waterloo Approach Road, until 26 June

Bickering vicars at the National. A new play by Drew Pautz invites us to consider whether the Church should ordain gay clergypersons. It's a paradox that an organisation run by men in skirts is so vexed by the prospect of admitting homosexuals to their club. Pautz's play neatly dramatises this contradiction in the person of Mike, a Protestant lay volunteer, who has a fling with a rent boy while attending a conference in Africa. The rent boy follows Mike home, claims sanctuary in his local church and compels him to help with his asylum claim.

These complications lead to a weighty final scene, which wants to be a psychological tour de force, a grand ethico-political religious skirmish involving Mike, the blackmailer, a top bishop and a Church spin-master. But the themes prove overpowering for the writer and everything falls to pieces in his hands. He can't resist indulging his preference for mischievous comedy over theological argument and the big finale lacks any coherence or point.

The show's best moments arrive earlier and involve a first-class dust-up between Mike and his broody wife Shelly, who has only the faintest inklings about his sexuality.

Shelly, pushing 40 and keen to start pushing a pram, feels her last chance of raising a family is ebbing away. Meanwhile, Mike has been valiantly trying to clobber his gayness with extra helpings of Bible study.

Fundamentalist fervour has pushed him towards the intolerant end of the Protestant spectrum, where his self-loathing expresses itself bizarrely, but believably, as a disapproval of IVF. At the same time, squirrels have invaded the couple's loft and the fate of the furry ones becomes a proxy for the conflict over baby-making.

It's a rich and sophisticated encounter made hilarious by the performance of Charlotte Randle, a wonderful and neglected actress who can touch the extremes of anger and of comedy in the same instant.

She's quite a talent and her amusing warmth is a valuable counterpoint to Jonathan Cullen's earnest, stubborn Mike. As the rent boy, Fiston Barek has just the right measure of spirited guile and Ian Redford puts on a great show of spineless munificence as a beardy cleric cunningly attired to resemble Rowan Williams. …

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