Writer: Penelope Skinner
Director: Amy Hodge
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
“The play is translated from an imaginary Scandinavian language” we are told in the introduction to the printed text and it seems fitting that playwright Penelope Skinner’s solitary dash of humour should be one that is not heard during the 70 minutes performance time. The play is set we know not where and its story is triggered by a song that we are not allowed to hear. In her preoccupation with making her writing oblique, Skinner forgets the we may need some help in connecting with the characters and sympathising with their dilemmas.
The story is a reworking of Saint Joan for the internet age. The army that our heroine Irene (Shvorne Marks) raises is not of soldiers, but of eight million Facebook likes and the ultimate penalty that she faces for dissent in the totalitarian state in which she lives is not burning at the stake, but being stoned to death. The state is Christian fundamentalist and the song that Irene writes and performs in a café is an affront to the principles dictated by its rulers.
A large illuminated cross hovers over the stage as a threatening symbol at the beginning in Max Jones’ dark, minimalist set design. Most of the scenes take place in Irene’s prison cell, her visitors being devoted friend Ann (Scarlett Brookes) and her lawyer Gudrun (Amanda Wright). Skinner challenges totalitarianism and the extremities of faith, asking whether martyrdom can be justified in pursuit of the cause of freedom of expression. The themes are worthy, but they are not new and Skinner seems content to go no further than discussing moral issues, when we want her to do more to delve into the characters’ inner emotions.
Amy Hodge’s direction is efficient, but she does little to bring the play closer to the audience. This cold and unwelcoming piece prompts the suggestion that a title more apt than Meek would be “Bleak”.
Runs until 26 August 2018 | Image: Helen Murray