Writer: Mike James
Director: Chris Durnall
Music: Robin &Bina Williamson
Reviewer: Jacqui Onions
Matthew’s Passion follows the events that unfold in a small West Wales village when music therapist, Martin (Simon Nehan), begins to work with autistic teenager, Matthew (Callum Glanville-Ellis). The play has been billed as a look at the world through the eyes of a teenage boy with autism but in reality it seems to be suffering from confused identity. Is the focus the issues surrounding autism, or religion, or is it just a soap opera style look at family like? Mike James’ writing attempts a bit of all three and therefore never really achieves any of them. Although the story is clear the point to it all is lacking and a concept that has the potential to be a thought provoking and moving piece of theatre just doesn’t make the grade.
The first half is very slow moving and is predominantly character setting yet these characters are still not explored enough to give them real depth. The pace does pick up in the second half and the play is all the more interesting for it. Other redeeming features in the writing include the subtle exploration of how Matthew understands far more about the world around him than his loved ones give him credit for because he has been labelled autistic. It would be beneficial for this to be developed much further, giving a greater depth to the character of Matthew.
Using the premise of a priest trying to get his autistic son to engage with and understand Christianity is an interesting way of exploring religious issues and has huge potential, especially when you throw into the mix a spiritualist influence on Matthew, but again this great idea doesn’t meet its full potential in this script.
The set, designed by Jo Hughes, at first appears to be a chaotic assembly of props but it soon becomes clear that this is a very cleverly designed representation of Matthew’s world; his den, his kitchen, the church and Martin’s house are all there on the stage in front of you and with a simple change in Rachel Mortimer’s lighting design the action moves from one place to another with ease. This allows the audience to explore the confines of Matthew’s world with no breaks in the action for set changes – hugely effective.
At just 17 years old, Glanville-Ellis gives a strong performance as Matthew in this, his professional debut and it is a shame that he is not given the opportunity to explore Matthew’s frustrations and passions further. The nature of the set design means that characters often remain on stage even when the action is taking place away from them. Special mention must be given to Glanville-Ellis’ focus and characterisation throughout as Matthew potters around his den and is in his element listening to bird calls on his iPod, even when the eyes of the audience are on something completely different.
Ri Richards as friend of the family and new curate, Mair, makes the absolute most of the script and creates a depth of character that the rest of the cast don’t necessarily have the opportunity to do. Her sermon, complete with flip chart, is easily the highlight of the production. Nehan as Martin along with Ioan Hefin as Matthew’s father, Tom, also both give enjoyable performances so it is a shame that this solid, highly watchable cast are let down by the script. An interesting play that could be so much more.