"Asking the biggest questions lightly"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 12/11/17

I’ve rarely had the pleasure of being part of such a happily transported audience.

American playwright Keith Bunin’s UK debut gently asks the biggest of questions about faith, love, grief, God and what human beings expect from them. Director Paul Higgins’s elegant and action-filled production holds these heaviest of things impressively lightly, while Marco Turcich’s set and Matt Cater’s lighting, like the direction, creating an assured sense of Hannah and Thomas’s world into which Brandt falls, and allowing the actors space and freedom to find it on their own terms.

Hannah, a widowed Episcopalian minister and scholar, is interviewing Brandt as ghost-writer for her analysis of the recently discovered manuscript of a lost gospel, apparently predating the Bible. When her son Thomas returns from one of his regular periods off the map, the men’s suppressed attraction becomes a touchingly close and supportive relationship. In spite of Hannah’s approval, the private demons of each character mean three mutually beneficial relationships remain power struggles, with each other and with themselves.

Mateo Oxley’s perfect inhabitation of Brandt packs the interview with Hannah (Kazia Pelka) with subtext and nuance, so that character rather than intellectual argument is the driving force, saving action from being overshadowed by analysis. The exquisite chemistry between the men evolved convincingly, and Thomas (Michael James) is glorious in his frustrated intelligence and immaturity.

That chemistry was also present in certain moments with Hannah, but Kazia Pelka was less rooted in her character. This was particularly frustrating as, in a script that manages to use humility, intellectual curiosity and emotional bravery to ask the biggest of questions, at a time when religious belief is less and less fashionable, it would have been more intriguing than ever to have a sympathetic Hannah. As it stands, it’s an achingly missed opportunity not to have had the spokesperson for conventional Christianity as deeply inhabited in character and world as the others, and we lost the chance to empathise equally with all sides of the argument.

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