"Religious thriller misses an opportunity"
by Dominic di Nezza for remotegoat on 23/09/09

When Mormon Elder Jaden Latimer (Rob Heaps) encounters gay Muslim Qasif (Richard David-Caine) he sets in motion events that could unravel his whole belief system and preconceptions of the world.

This may seem like an over-contrived starting point for playwright Sebastian Michael's clash of cultures, but in truth it's a very engaging watch. Heaps' moral crusader is a good balance of endearing hope and awkward naivete, and David-Caine's peppy Qasif is a joy to watch, his energy maintaining much of the action. Zina Badran as Dina (Qasif's sister, who Latimer falls for) is equally impressive as a despairing believer in a godless world, but whose latent humanity can nevertheless glimmer through with a single smile.

Thus is the love-triangle set up, and with pacy directing from Adam Berzsenyi Bellaagh integrated seamlessly with Moritz Behrens' peerless set, which evokes both sterile urbanity and, when necessary, grimy intensity, it looks as if we're in for a very promising evening.

And then it goes wrong. Without giving too much away, an incident that is telegraphed from the very start of the show suddenly starts to dominate the action, relegating most of the cast to the archetypes they had thus far succeeded in avoiding. Latimer's passionate belief rapidly and unrealistically collapses into puppy-eyed sentimentailty, and Badran's vibrant, conflicted Dina is subsumed by her moral outrage into crude caricature. Nila Aalia and Steve Nicholson' support remains solid but can't avoid sliding into irrelevance, as indeed does David-Caine by the climax.

Indeed it seems to be the climax that's the problem. It's an interactive set-piece which after the engaging humanity of the first half feels contrived and manipulative, negating its' intended impact by seeming to provide the justification for the whole endeavour. Neither Michael's script or Bellaagh's direction can make amends, and the end result is exactly the kind of achingly 'current' shock tactic that 'Elder Latimer...' had previously shown every intention of avoiding. Given the undoubted talent and ability shown by all involved, it's a real shame that the show feels it needs a cliched hook on which to hang itself - they clearly are capable of much better.

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