My name is Terry and I believe in God.
In a not too distant future atheism has won the battle. If you show signs of belief you are treated like a drug addict and forced to join a self-help group. Repeat offenders will be severely punished for their insanity facing prison or even the death penalty.
Terry is coming to Joanna’s group for the first time. The sessions take place in a former church which now looks like an NHS waiting room with green walls and orange plastic chairs. There is coffee, tea and biscuits. Soon the other members of the self-help group drop in – Noah, a Jew, who is fond of cats and custard cream biscuits, the Muslim Amatullah, the coarse Max who is dressed up in a toga complete with sacrificial knife to honour Zeus, the shy Catholic Mary, and THE MESSIAH, this time appearing as a Muslim, saying little more than “Allah is merciful.” Counsellor Joanne, a former Christian, proudly informs the newcomer that she has been free for nine years, without a single relapse. She assures Terry that the 12-step program and the confidentiality of the group will help him free himself from his superstition. Joanne is dedicated to her work and, in typical patronising social worker fashion, tries to lead the misguided sheep back onto the track. However, the Believers might have other plans.
Holly Race Roughan’s production is thought-provoking, intense and, at the same time, funny - it never lets the audience off the hook. Before the performance there is a rather eerie sound that evokes a feeling of unease. Noah informs Terry that the venue where the group meetings take place used to be a church and they are situated in the nave – the ship that carries human souls to God. There is a faded cross on the wall and when Amatullah smokes a cigarette the smoke seems to be mingled with incense. The transition from a fairly religious society to an atheist society where all religions are outlawed was not smooth – many thousands of believers were killed during the Vatican massacre, now euphemistically called the Vatican “purge.”
The cast is very good throughout but Keisha Amponsa Banson is truly excellent as the counsellor Joanna who treats the Believers as drug addicts and potential criminals and is at her most patronising with Amatullah who she calls “my little Infidel” as her private little joke. Brave in the face of adversity and dedicated to her task, she is too indoctrinated to question the new rules of society: “God is against the global law.” Seda Yildiz is sarcastically superior as Amatullah who considers the whole program a farce. Christopher Laishley is equally sceptical as Noah and navigates through the 12-step program with skilled fake enthusiasm. Nick Finegan conveys the shyness and insecurity of Terry who finds comfort in believing there is more and slowly builds a connection to the equally shy Mary (the lovely Tamsin Topolski) who prays for her little brother. Alex Forward is funny and energetic as the follower of the ancient Greek faith and Oscar Jenkyn proves that it is possible to steal the scene with a simple: "Omm.”
Strip Theatre was founded by Henry David and Zoё Robinson in 2009 and focuses on new writing that takes a left-wing approach to historical events and contemporary culture. It aims to strip away preconceptions by presenting shows that encourage audiences to laugh and look afresh at accepted popular ideologies. I should say the company was very successful with this production.
Please go and see this intelligent and thought-provoking play.
By Carolin Kopplin
Until 23rd June 2012
Tickets: £12 / £8 (conc.), Tues – Sat 7.30 pm / Sun 6 pm
Box Office: 020 7704 6665 (24-hour hotline)
The Rosemary Branch, 2 Shepperton Road, London N1 3DT