Writer: Lucy Avery
Director: Kate Baiden
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Religion is one of those subjects, along with politics and money, which people are advised not to discuss in polite society. Yet despite our more atheistic times, the effects of religion and the way it’s shaped our history are all around us. One of the core missions of the British Empire was to civilise by spreading a version of obedient Christianity to any place it conquered and in the far corners of the world the remnants of this policy still exist in deeply religious societies.
Lucy Avery’s Godless Monsters showing for only a couple of days at the New Diorama brings together two people who found God at a similar time. Esther is a teenager growing up in rural Africa, rescued from an unwanted marriage by the local Pastor who she goes to work for. Meanwhile, the homeless Gray attends a London church service that promises food and has a visitation from God. Shortly afterwards, Gray and Esther meet in Africa where he oversees funding for the local church and believes he has a mission to save her. But as their story unfolds with shocking consequences, and cultures clash, it soon becomes clear that religion is the excuse people give for the ungodly things they do.
The production design is very simple – some washing lines and cloth to represent a river but effectively conveys the simple African village where Esther lives. Although several characters appear in the story, only two, Esther and Gray, are visualised. We see both talking to religious men and later a member of the congregation but their physical absence asks the audience to question how much of what is seen is in their heads. It is performed with absolute belief, as if the characters were there, but you’re never quite sure, as with the notion of God, how real their perspective is.
Michal Keyamo is excellent as Esther, a girl far older than her years supporting the community and forced to make some very adult choices. Keyamo emphasises Esther’s almost zealous belief and in several discussions with Gray suggests the very different lifestyles they have experienced, and the almost naïve assumption that the aspirations of an Englishman and an African girl can be reconciled. Sam Elwin’s Gray meanwhile is the softer of the two, a man haunted by a troubled childhood with a need to protect women from injury. There are moments of violence which Elwin handles well and the dialogue between the two actors is always gripping.
The final two scenes are less shocking than they aim to be and strive to conclude the story a little too neatly, so perhaps here a little rewriting could make them more powerful or even more ambiguous. The title Godless Monsters refers to the goats that harass the community but by the end you’ll be wondering whether the humans are the ones to be feared. Avery’s tale has a lot of interesting points to make about the way people use religion to get what they want, using a veneer of virtue and morality to hide their true purpose. Maybe that’s why we’re not supposed to discuss religion, because we’re afraid of what we might uncover.
Runs Until30 March