Sometimes when attending the theatre you feel you already know something about the story or the author and then it's a further delight the way everything is brought to life in a way you had previously never imagined. Last night's performance of the relatively unknown play 'Assumption' at Colchester's Mercury Theatre meant there were additional unknowns in the artistic equation to engage the audience en masse. Written by established playwright Simon Turley, this is a brilliant romp which manages to trash an array of sacred cows by tackling topics including religion, prejudice, hypocrisy, abuse, misogyny and Irish Roman Catholicism with a robust yet gentle comedic touch.
The script is wickedly brilliant and multi-layered. For example you could interpret the core theme of the justified dig at institutional religion as the overall message or you could readily be seduced by the revelation of something deeply spiritual and therefore more transcendental.
The plot centres on Gabriella, played by Emily Woodward, who is a straightforward, down to earth, 'girl next door' type who falls pregnant 'without having committed the requisite sin'. She then has to suffer the terror of facing up to her busybody, 'never does anything wrong' mother, to 'confess' that the father is actually an angel. Meanwhile her friend, Anna, played by Nadia Morgan, has suspicions that Gabriella is also carrying a torch for Sean (never seen on stage), whom Anna is determined to marry. As a result, during confession, she 'lets it slip' to Father Farrell (also never seen!) about Gabriella's condition. The first act revolved around setting this part of the story, with riveting performances from the compact cast of just five actresses plus a cameo from a young girl.
The pace is consistently sedate, befitting the period the costumes suggest. As always with Colchester Mercury's productions, the standard is exceptional, respect due to Dee Evans for the sensitive direction. The faultless technical production and brilliant lighting design counterbalanced what appears to be a simple set, providing both subtle surprises and one jaw dropping moment early in the 1st act that provoked a collective gasp from the audience. Whilst it is difficult to single out a single performance from the cast, as the seamless combination of them all makes this production really solid, Christine's Absalom's performance as Gabriella's mother was captivating along with Amanda Haberland as the androgynous angel. They formed a counterpoint to the hapless Gabriella who also had to contend with the Reverend Mother, played by Gilian Cally. However, it is Emily's performance as Gabriella that engenders an affection that means you long for things to work out for her and in that respect she is utterly convincing.
As for special moments, there are many. I loved the way the script is an allegory of the Christmas Nativity story and presents Gabriella with similar challenges to the Blessed Mary. The 2nd Act sees Gabriella unceremoniously despatched off to the exploitative Sisters of Mercy for 'correction' from her unspeakable sin ('for the best'). This yielded the most poignant moments, betwixt Gabriella and the subservient nun Assumpta, as the play takes on a further dimension and embeds the audience with unforgettable tenderness. This ability to combine humour and pathos to tackle essentially a religious storyline in a way that oozes charm rather than offense is so special and this production nails it.
I sit and waitAssumption runs until Saturday 11th June 2011, it's definitely worth making the trip to Colchester to experience that something extra the Mercury's productions have, this is definitely one to see and remember.
does an angel contemplate my fate
and do they know
the places where we go
when we´re grey and old
´cos I´ve been told
that salvation lets their wings unfold
so when I’m lying in my bed
thoughts running through my head
and I feel that love is dead
I’m loving angels instead