(Production November 2003)
this is the quality of this brand new groupís first offering, then I
canít wait to see their next one.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
simple set, a very complex tale and highly talented acting and direction,
all gave the small but intensively involved audience a theatrical treat.
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
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.