Writer: Leigh Douglas
Director: Fiona Kingwill
Completing the King’s Head Theatre’s digital season is Sacrament, a tale of a Catholic girlhood written and performed by Leigh Douglas. This coming-of-age drama is energetically told by Douglas, and the storytelling is a clear as the Angelus bells. Sacrament’s only fault is that, at 90 minutes, it is overlong, rather diluting its power.
Douglas plays a young girl – never named – growing up in Ireland. We meet her going through the rites prescribed by the Catholic Church: First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. We see her move from blind faith, proud and excited when she’s to receive Holy Communion for the first time to world-weary teenager, not wanting to get out of bed for Sunday Mass. She chooses her confirmation name Catherine, not after a saint she reveres, but because it’s the name of her best friend at school.
Religion takes a backseat when the girl goes to university in England where she becomes caught up with boys, and friends, and gossip, and her new lesbian friend Sophie. For a one -woman -show, Sacrament has a lot of characters, but Douglas ensures that every aunt, nun and college friend is well defined not just through accent, but through stance as well. Aunts seem to have babies attached to their sides, or appear to be forever stirrings stews, and these gestures guarantee that the audience is never confused, and the tale continues smoothly.
Much of the first half of the show is very funny, and Douglas obtains good mileage from the impersonations of the girl’s stolid first boyfriend and of the woman who comes to the school to encourage the girls to hang on to their virginity until marriage, saying that their stocks of oxytocin are limited and that it shouldn’t be used up before their wedding night or their husbands might not love them.
But the comedy ebbs away in the second part when the girl is faced with another challenge in which she comes to doubt her own selfhood, once so secure and predictable. Douglas does well to manage the shift in tone, but while the camera shots bring variety to her performance., the piece does run out of steam. This show would be more effective, if the circular journey from church back to church weren’t quite so long.
However, to see faith seriously discussed on the British stage is a rare occurrence, and Douglas should be commended for bringing such grace and thought to a subject that only the greatest playwrights – Shaw, Osborne and Hare – have dared to approach. So take a pew and get ready to hear confession.
Runs here until 12 May 2021