Watermill Theatre - Our Church
19th June to 20th July 2019
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Watermill not afraid of challenging issues
Touring drama explores what it means to live a haunted life
Watermill tour to villages: Our Church, Wednesday, June 19, to Saturday, July 13, and at The Watermill, Bagnor, from July 16 to 20. Reviewed at Acland Hall, Cold Ash, on Wednesday, July 3
Marietta Kirkbride's beautifully-crafted play Our Church poses some sensitive and thought-provoking issues. How far would you go to forgive someone who has done something very wrong and give them a second chance?
This is the dilemma facing the dwindling church committee who meet in the cold church, where the boiler is on the blink, to discuss how they will get 'new blood' to join the committee.
June (Kirsty Cox) is the local GP who wants to nominate Tom, a newcomer to the village, but it's a controversial proposal since he has been to prison and is a registered sex offender. Robert East plays the diabetic stalwart Michael, who has a penchant for biscuits and is supportive of June's nomination.
However, Anne (Susan Tracy) is adamantly against Tom being allowed to join and feels "repugnant of what he has done".
June is also the safeguarding officer for the church and Beth the vicar believes that they should live in a compassionate community and the church should be a place of sanctuary and safety.
They move on to the fundraising strategy as the building needs lots of work. June suggests in addition to the Harvest Festival they could organise a croquet competition, but stubborn Anne is against change.
Tensions run high as June says in exasperation: "If we as Christians cannot forgive what's the point?"
But what is the secret that happened to Anne as a young girl that makes her so agitated? Very much a cliffhanger at the end of act one.
When Tom (a splendid contrasting performance by Robert East) enters the church to avoid the rain he meets Anne arranging the flowers, much to her angst. This is certainly an uncomfortable awkward meeting.
Tom is affable. His life has been blighted by what he has done. He knows he has made a huge mistake and he will have to live with that knowledge all his life.
In her haste to leave, Anne has a nasty fall and damages her ankle and Tom immediately offers to help, but Anne is not so keen. Slowly they begin to trust each another and Anne reveals her shocking secret.
The cast are simply splendid and give moving performances, thoroughly deserving the audience's long applause.
Anna Orton's church set creates the atmosphere and Nik Partridge assuredly directs, bringing out both the humour and humanity of the play perfectly. Highly recommended.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Marietta Kirkbride, the writer, eases us into the play gently. It’s a meeting of the depleted Parochial Church Council in the freezing church. Michael, June and Anne get on well together as they discuss the day-to-day business of the parish, the minutiae that will be recognisable to anybody who’s served on a committee. But the veneer of friendliness starts to crumble when June, the liberal and enthusiastic local doctor, suggests that Tom, a convicted sex offender, join the committee. Anne is having none of it, her reactionary views implacably opposed to Tom. Michael is stuck in the middle as an ineffectual conciliator.
The second act is a two-hander between Tom and Anne, meeting by chance for the first time. Tom, garrulous at first, gets Anne’s back up but as he tries to explain his actions and then takes on the role of Good Samaritan to Anne, she starts to open up with her own story.
Robert East as Tom and Michael, and Susan Tracy as Anne give strong, convincing and moving performances and work together extremely well in act two as the colossal divide between them starts to crumble. Kirsty Cox as June brings out her enthusiasm as well as her frustration with her older colleagues.
There’s a lot to think about in this well-written, complex and absorbing play. The messages are about Christian forgiveness, atonement and rehabilitation. Would we, in Tom’s or Anne’s place, see or do things differently? In life, some things are easy to forgive, others impossible. But where you draw the line will depend on so many things, relating to your background, environment, experiences.
Congratulations to the Watermill for taking a risk with this play in the village halls. It finishes this week but there are still a few seats available – see it if you can.