Brighton Fringe 2019
In this passionate, one-man show, actor Daniel Finlay channels the powerful story of the challenges that Damien experienced while serving the community of exiled lepers on a remote Hawaiian island in the 1870s and ’80s, until his own life was taken by the affliction on April 15, 1889.
A one-man show about a Belgian priest who goes to live in a leper colony in Hawai, in a small slightly out of town venue isn’t the easiest sell in the overcrowded fringe marketplace and that was reflected in the small audience on it’s opening night.
If the reaction of that audience was anything to go by those seats will not be empty for long. Designed and Directed by Janette Eddisford this is an outstanding piece of theatre that radiates quality from the moment you step into the room to be engulfed in the odour of frankincense.
Two church pews frame a screened confessional at the back of the stage. A statue of Our Lady and a vase of lilies on one side, a wooden table and chair on the other. Mid-stage a travel trunk containing props, that serves as chair and coffin. Each piece is well chosen and to my untrained eye fitting to the period. This might seem like a small point but there is no making do here. A lot of effort and thought has gone into the set and staging and this attention to detail is obvious in all aspects of the production. The music and sound effects, the minimal but effectively used lighting, nothing jars, everything serves to enhance the storytelling.
The play itself, written by Aldyth Morris and first performed in 1976 tells the story of Father de Veuster who is called by his God to serve the lepers of Hawai, on their prison island of Moloka’i. Before seeing the play I wondered how this could work. How could one man tell this story and make it engaging? I needn’t have worried. Starting at the end, the script jumps about in time giving us glimpses into the important episodes and slowly revealing the character of the man himself. It’s a well-written script, poetic, and in Daniel Finlay’s hands, hypnotic and moving.
Daniel holds us from the minute he walks from the darkness on to the stage. His voice is melodic, his performance natural and effortless as he ranges from laughter to fury; strong and fearless in defence of his charges, vulnerable and tender in his own self-doubt.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about this show. It’s a traditional piece of one man theatrical storytelling but I was not the only person in the audience moved to tears by this performance.
If you’re a regular theatre-goer, this is a must-see production which deserves to sell out. If you make or aspire to make quality fringe theatre then this is a masterclass in how it’s done.