Writer: Lucy Bell
Director: Beth Shouler
Reviewer: Bethan Highgate-Betts
Are You There? Takes a look at modern Christianity in rural Devon. Written by award-winning Exeter playwright Lucy Bell and produced by Theatre West, the performance is part of Theatre West’s season of new writing running during November throughout Bristol and beyond.
Shirley runs the local church Alpha course, so far no ones turned up. She also cares for her 21-year-old disabled daughter and lives with her husband Phil –he works in a tampon factory. Abi runs the PTA and taxis her two children between their various clubs and activities. She’s married to Jock, a science teacher at the local ‘posh’ school. Both couples live in rural Devon and neither really think much of the other. But when Jock turns up at the Alpha course one Wednesday evening they begin seeing a lot more of each other.
Joanna Smith and Philip Perry bring the two couples to life with very strong performances, even if the accents do get a little Doc Martin in places. Subtle costume adjustments spark the changing of characters and allow the actors to explore the lives of both couples. Although the play is about the two couples in a wider sense, its real interest lies with the two women. Shirley’s continued relationship with God and Abi’s fledgeling relationship with her husband’s faith, as well as their relationships with their husbands outside of faith.
The introduction of some interesting themes is put forth; faith, relationships, grief. Unfortunately, they are just that, introductions. It only ever touches these ideas on a surface level, never delving beyond saying it out loud. Which is a great shame, there aren’t a great deal of plays exploring modern Christianity and there seems like there’s a lot more to say.
There are beautiful moments within the play; Shirley telling God why she came to him in the first place and Phil’s one and only speech are heart warming, bitter-sweet moments that show the struggle for compassion that we often face in life. Peppering the more comedic moments that drive the play.
The simple staging can sometimes make it hard to follow in terms of where characters are in the narrative. Stationary set including a bed, ironing board and kitchen table are used for all locations, including a church hall. Leading to confusion, but adding to the homely feel of the piece.
A story of faith, relationships and most importantly communication. Are You There? Shows us the faith of two families at very different stages of their lives and struggle to understand each other.
Runs until 5 November 2016 then continues to tour |Image: Contributed