Alan Westaway (Sebastian), Bronagh Gallagher (Tatyana), Jude Akuwudike (Lawrence) and Kyle Soller (Tom). Picture by Stephen Cummiskey
Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Faith Machine was a long evening of dialogue, debate and humour about capitalism, faith and sexuality at the Royal Court. The play follows the lives of Sophie and Tom who struggle to maintain a relationship together when their ethnics and moral compasses begin to point them in different directions. Travelling from USA, to London, to a small Greek Island, all the while, exploring themes of Western double standards of the value of life and the Church’s stance on accepting and supporting homosexuality.
The director, Jamie Lloyd’s choice of minimum set accompanied by abstract projected imaginary means the cast had to be of the highest calibre and some were. Award-winning Scottish acting veteran Ian McDiarmid was mesmerising, commanding every scene he was in and without a doubt is one of the main reasons audiences will enjoy this production. McDiarmid portrays Edward, Sophie’s (Hayley Atwell) father, an unorthodox Christian Bishop who has very liberal ideas about the Church. Using flashbacks and a number of stereotypical female supporting characters (a grouchy Russian housemaid, an Uncle-Tom like young African saved from poverty); Campbell provides a new voice on the old tale of the inequalities of capitalism. Although many points are thought-provoking and intelligent it is very clear that Campbell has a message of acceptance for all he wants us all to share. Despite Campbell’s excellent ear for a natural, humorous style of dialogue and strong male characters, the Faith Machine can’t help but get a little preachy at parts.
The last joke of the play is about the doubling up of actor Jude Akuwudike for the characters of the Kenyan Bishop Patrick and Sophie’s best-gay-friend Lawrence. This cheap joke undermined the hard work Akuwudike had put into his characters and performances and left me slightly disappointed in an award winning writer who displayed such sharp wit and humour throughout the play.
The director’s decision to have two intervals leaves the production feeling like three different plays as the pace and intensity is not maintained equally and as a result I found my interest in the story and characters waning. Although the two hour, forty minutes production was too long for me there were some beautiful moments in the play, often provided by Bronagh Gallagher’s character of the grouchy (ex-sex worker) Tatyanna, or Kyle Soller’s Tom.
The Faith Machine will be enjoyed by any who enjoy epic length plays and have intense political and metaphysical philosophical discussions. If theatre has the power to change views and ideologies, then let us hope Campbell’s messages will change us for the better and we all become believers of the ‘Human Race’ and all we can achieve together.
Info: The Faith Machine is at the Royal Court Theatre, downstairs, until October 1, 2011