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(Production November 2003)

If this is the quality of this brand new groupís first offering, then I canít wait to see their next one.

A three-hander, Agnes of God demands high calibre input from all three women in the cast. All three have secrets to reveal during the play, and each does this in a very different way. Apart from the plot itself, it is this contrast which gives the play such bite.

Director Denis Steer had gathered three fine actresses for his production Ė all with considerable acting experience with other groups. All the roles called for considerable emotional expression and all three had the enviable ability to provide this.

Dr Martha Livingstone must use her psychiatric skills to try and resolve the mental health of a young nun, Agnes, who was found, in her room at the convent, unconscious, with a newly born baby dead in the waste paper basket.

Clare Gollopís hard veneer as the Doctor, slowly cracked as the tale was told, and she swung from medical professional to a vulnerable human being with her own mental hang-ups, who paid the price for getting too emotionally involved with her patient.

With really only her face to show her emotions, Mo Lawton in the full habit of the Conventís  Mother, brought a surprising worldliness to Mother Miriam Ruth.  But she, too, had her secrets, which she tried hard to hide under her habit. However,  they eventually tumbled out. The demands of this role were complex, but very ably met.

The playing of Agnes demands the widest gamut of visible emotions shown on stage. She must be calm, lucid, distraught, go through a minimalised child birth and always have that air about her to keep the audience guessing about her sanity. Helen Dixon made superb work of this demanding role. She portrayed innocence, agony, horror under hypnosis as her own motherís brutality was revealed, and dealt a blow with her final words which threw anyone who thought they had reached a conclusion right back to square one again,

A simple set, a very complex tale and highly talented acting and direction, all gave the small but intensively involved audience a theatrical treat.

More please.

Theo Spring

The Chase Theatre Company may be a newcomer to the local non-professional stage but, between them, their members have considerable experience with other societies. Their debut production, at Carshalton's Charles Cryer Studio last week, showed that they also have a wealth of talent.

Agnes of God is a challenging play - both in its subject matter and in the demands it puts on the performers. A psychiatrist is called on to examine a nun who is in denial about having given birth to a baby, which she is then thought to have murdered.

There are no thriller-type twists or red herrings, and no tidy ending, but some thought-provoking questions that can be discussed long after the final curtain.

The play needs no scenery and very few props. It's success as a stage production depends almost entirely on the skill of the performers. Chase Theatre's presentation held attention from first to last.

Clare Gollop, the doctor, was on-stage throughout, involved in many exchanges but, occasionally, a passive observer. The case caused her to re-examine incidents she had tried to obliterate from her own past. Mo Lawton played the Mother Superior, a worldly-wise and far from submissive woman who became a nun late in life after raising her own family.

Helen Dixon showed every facet of Agnes, the young nun at the centre of the investigation - was she simple, possessed, or all these and even more?

Each actress gave an outstanding performance. They had obviously studied their character in depth and had the skill to translate her into a credible, flesh and blood person. Equally important, though, was the interaction between the three. Tension and, occasionally, empathy was almost tangible in places thanks to excellent cue-bit, timing and voice control. Meticulous rehearsing and Denis Steer's thoughtful direction helped give the production an ideal sense of pace - confrontational and reflective episodes were equally well portrayed, to give an intensely satisfying, if not always comfortable, theatrical experience. Intelligent lighting focused attention as the action moved from one location to another.

I have just one major criticism. One character smokes heavily in the first act which, in the Charles Cryer, means that the audience can't escape the effects. Having established the addiction, it was not necessary for her to puff her way through seemingly endless cigarettes, to the discomfort of the audience.

The production was, though, a triumph - hopefully the first of many for the team.

Tony Flook