FringeReview UK 2019
Written and directed by Alexander Zeldin with set and costume by Natasha Jenkins lit by Marc Williams, movement by Marcin Rudy, sound design by Josh Anio Grigg with offstage music rehearsal director Laurie Blundell.
They’re real enough, at least one – Charity – was; and one, Faith, is, which leaves what’s in the middle.
After Alexander Zeldin’s devastating Love, excoriating amongst other things the benefits system and provision for the aged, it’s intriguing to see him in this most political of times not start a revolution as people suggest he might in 2016: he looks at austerity steadily. And that’s what’s so quietly devastating about Love and its predecessor Beyond Caring, the first of the trilogy, depicting workers in a meat-packing factory.
What Zeldin finds in Faith, Hope & Charity is the deadly accruing of austerity’s poisons, how it reaches into the lives of young and old, the capable and fragile, if not incapacitated.
A tribunal looms over Susan Lynch’s vulnerable Beth over the disposal of her daughter, three-year-old Faith. It’s the core tragedy around which the fate of this community centre in all its touching tat, its brightness and yes love revolves.
There’s Cecilia Noble’s quietly-spoken Hazel, who runs it, a standout performance of patient handling and quiet compassion with a surprise. Though someone called Charity – fleetingly referenced – has died, Hazel embodies it. There’s temporary then permanent choir master Mason, played by Nick Holder whose moving performance as caring son of Anna Calder-Marshall’s memorably senile mother was so central in Love. Here he takes a more central role, with greater agency, indeed embodying hope. Like all he has a backstory that fetched him up here.
Alan Williams’ Bernard, a man with a surprising past, dodders on at the beginning and end of each act, and reveals a masterly edge: not yet afflicted with full dementia, just cusping it, Bernard offers a cogent if frail memory of a more socialised past. A vision of our once and perhaps future world where people look out for each other. It’s a beautifully layered performance. Williams’ Bernard enters with signature mis-timings that raise a laugh – and laughter ripples through this work in a way Love could never permit – but then surprises you with keen observations.
Also directed by Alexander Zeldin, the production features Natasha Jenkins’ lovingly detailed church hall set with arch windows and an unused mezzanine. It frames two glass doors below, and even boasts a patio often rained on, characters entering wet– with a recurring roof-leak elsewhere. Trestles with food – sourced from a kitchen with hatch and blinds – render this viscerally local to everyone. It’s a beautifully realised affair. Jenkins ensures an authentic sadly fluorescent top or two in her costumes too. The production’s lit by Marc Williams with scene blackouts; one ghostly moment features emergency lights emanating from the kitchen as tenebrous love inches from two directions. Movement’s by Marcin Rudy. Josh Anio Grigg’s sound design involves an emblematic trapped bird in the rafters, twice, and elsewhere an electronic keyboard. Offstage music rehearsal’s taken by director Laurie Blundell.
Zeldin’s patient flaying-back of systems to probe the humanity it’s flaying, here provides an equally patient series of climaxes. Whether it’s the narrative of Lynch’s Beth, a wonderfully alert steeping into desperation: volatile, terribly damaged by an abusive relationship, seeing sexuality as the only intimacy she knows. Or whether this in turn reveals the just-together Mason’s vulnerabilities and boundaries – and how to breach them. You ache for the right kind of affection to flower, but is Beth too damaged? It provides one of the two crises of this work, meshed too with Hazel’s attempts to stand guardian for Faith, which brings revelations about Hazel which pulses through to the drama’s end.
Bobby Stallwood, Beth’s teenage son Marc, has to negotiate his own flight from music and how to find his way back, coping with a mother who can’t cope with motherhood or even her feelings. It’s a strong performance, calling on a slow ramping-up from silence to authority to heartbreak.
There’s the peripheral Karl, Dayo Koleosho’s nailing portrayal of a young man with Asperger’s who can’t cope even with being moved from his habitual lunching post. There’s the mostly silent Tharwa, Hind Swareldahab’s needy, suspicious single mother with a far more pro-active child Tala (played winningly by one of three actors). Corey Peterson’s more volatile Anthony is the spark for confrontation on several fronts, yet has a narrower right on his side. Other ensemble performances by Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea, Sarah Day, Shelley McDonald and Carrie Rock produce a sudden spurt of hunger at times when food or indeed music is prepared.
Then there’s the concert itself, which sparks a denouement. It’s both heart-warming and intensely moving, a sad and angry consolation as the poet Geoffrey Hill once said. And one character finds a terrible voice in the last blackout.
Despite its quieter politics, this new play’s witness goes deeper with narratives even more finely wrought, the plot more quietly revelatory, like options sounded and coming back with a dead sound. The end too is devastating. It’s an incremental play grounded in quiet with a huge howl against inhumanity and all that calls out for love: and those other three attributes.