For the second time in 24 hours I found myself watching a play in the environs of Peterborough Cathedral.
This time it was Eastern Angles’ outdoor production of The Trials of Mary, a collaborative show played out against the glorious backdrop of the West Front.
As with the performance of Richard III the previous night, relevance to people today was the key concept behind this production. Described by artistic director Ivan Cutting as a ‘modern update’ its aim was to bring the Gospel narrative to life and to present the story of Mary and Joseph ‘as you’ve never seen it before.’
True enough, the feisty script written in rhyming couplets by a team of local poets did just that.
The lines by Keely Mills, Charley Genever, Clare Currie, Pete Cox, and Toby Wood succeeded in reaching out to the large audience on the Cathedral Green.
Despite the age-old features of the plot, people were gripped by moments of hilarious comedy and well-rehearsed physical theatre, contrasted with moments of intense pathos. And aided and abetted by enthusiastic and tireless acting performances.
Like many people in the crowd I’d assumed that the company consisted of around 15 actors playing about 30 different roles. Imagine my surprise when just seven actors stood up for their well-deserved curtain call! There were no passengers or weak links in this cleverly cast show, the company consisting of Alasdair Baker, Daniel Goodhand, Fiona Putnam, Hannah Parker, Lianne Harvey, Lizzie Muncey, Roger Wentworth, plus director Poppy Rowley.
Highlights were provided by Alasdair as a scary transatlantic Herod, by Lizzie as an assertive Angel Gabriel, and Roger as a suitably bewildered Joseph. Inevitably though, it was Lianne as Mary who stole the show as we followed her throughout her uncomfortable progress towards the final tragic realisation that she would eventually lose her baby in the most appalling circumstances imaginable.
Yet, not everything in this production worked quite so well. I could happily have dispensed with the trio of formation dancers decked out in ugly hard hats and hi-viz jackets.
The same could be said of the two paramedics, and the tiresome references to the NHS. The trouble with these visual and verbal gags is that they create caricatures rather than characters.
As well as the NHS we were also treated to references to Facebook and Wikipedia. Yes they drew a titter from the audience, but in the context of this story they seem irrelevant and superficial. Which is why it was so pleasing to see the human drama of Mary triumph in the end.
REVIEW: JOE CONWAY