Brighton Fringe 2021
You all know the saying, I’m sure. If you talk to God, it means you’re a pious person. But if God talks to you, it means you’re crazy and they’ll probably try to lock you up.
That’s not what happens in Ellie’s case, because she doesn’t tell anybody else that God, or in her case Saint Peter, talks to her.
Saint Peter tells Ellie Rose that she’s The Messiah, that he’s going to take her away with him, and that she’s going to save the world, then die a martyr’s death, and finally live forever with him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Gosh! That’s quite a future Ellie has ahead of her. There’s one problem, though – she’s got a part in the school play at the end of term and she doesn’t want to miss it . . .
Life can be quite difficult when you’re eleven or twelve, just on the cusp of being a teenager. You’ve developed an identity, but you’re not sure how it fits in with everyone else’s. You feel special – that’s the sense of identity – but you have no power because you’re only a child and everything around you is out of your control. Quite a number of children develop ‘wrong identity’ fantasies – a conviction that they must have been swapped at birth and that they are actually someone much more important, like the Prince of another country. Or you could be The Messiah.
Romy Elliot is twenty, but she made a convincing twelve-year-old Ellie in her school uniform: white blouse, charcoal grey skirt and white socks. She sat in the middle of a very simple set at Sweet Old Steine – just a chair, a stool and a small set of wooden steps on a black stage, lit by a single spotlight. The space was small, and we were too close to have any sense of a ‘fourth wall’, but Romy Elliot broke through that convention anyway – dropping out of Ellie’s character to give us knowing asides.
Ellie told us that she first heard Saint Peter while she was in the bath, and we heard his voice as a just-audible sound track. If you’ve seen ‘Field of Dreams’, where the whispering voice in the maize field tells the hero – “If you build it, He will come”, you’ve got the idea. Then the actor jumped out of character to inform us that – “It’s worth pointing out that this is a dramatisation. The real conversation was more a kind of cosmic interface …”. In a later section she mentioned a horrible teacher, Mr Loud – “Actually that isn’t his real name but I don’t want to get sued …”.
So Ellie waits for Saint Peter to come and take her away, but he doesn’t appear. 2011 turns into 2012 and then 2013, and he still hasn’t appeared, and in the meantime school is hard. Ellie has hardly any friends, her ‘great acting talents’ don’t result in parts in the school plays, and her ‘impressive numeracy skills’ leave her with the lowest results in the maths competition.
This production is all about growing up – and growing up isn’t easy. Ellie learns – painfully – that nobody’s going to listen to your opinion if you don’t matter. We start out feeling that we’re the centre of the universe, and gradually come to the realisation that we’re actually very peripheral. But Ellie’s a fighter: standing up to the school bullies and gradually learning to make her voice heard. She understands, also, that the system is designed to favour and support the winners, but that the strugglers might have potential too, even if the teachers can’t see it.
This was one of the most thought-provoking productions I’ve seen for a long time. Romy Elliot began by giving us an engaging portrait of a naïve, delusional young girl, peppered with some very funny lines, but as the show progressed it gradually became a strident polemic on behalf of all of us normal, average people – not the gifted winners who have everything going for them anyway. As Ellie’s knowledge of the world grew, and she herself grew towards adulthood, she realised that if God exists, He isn’t some benign father figure in the sky in the best of all possible worlds – He’s the driving force behind inequality and war, earthquakes and disease. To emphasise her points, she quoted Yeats: appropriately enough, ‘the Second Coming’ –
Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
As Ellie came to accept that God isn’t coming, Saint Peter wasn’t coming, that she wasn’t The Messiah, or even particularly special; she realised that she would have to make her own way in life – without God to help her.
At the show’s close, she tells herself – “Be special, on your own terms. You’re not the second coming of Jesus Christ – you’re the first coming of Ellie Rose.”