HOW THE WORLD BEGAN
by Catherine Trieschmann.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 10 December 2011.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 December.
Intelligently designed and well-argued drama.
Despite its cosmic title, American Catherine Trieschmann’s play is an old-style, if up to the hour, discussion drama. New Yorker Susan (Anna Francolini, all nerve ends and defensiveness) has gone as biology teacher to a hicks’ corner school in the heart of small-town, Bible-belt Kansas.
Unaware how far she’s travelled in mental landscapes as well as physical mileage, in a misplaced Richard Dawkins moment Susan refers to religious beliefs as ‘gobbledegook’. Fragile teenage student Micah (a suitably Old Testament name) objects.
His anxieties match Susan’s tensions from problems back in New York, as becomes clear once Des Kennedy’s production has settled into its stride. A siren sends him under the table, and while he objects to her seeing religion as a comfort blanket, his belief helps him suppress anxieties following a natural disaster that hit the town, which may link to climate change.
Every step Susan takes to heal the rift with her student leads to a further demand, while news of her views has leaked out and led to retaliation from the town’s drunken youth.
Finally, Micah pushes too far and his teacher rebels with a declaration of disbelief to match John Proctor’s in The Crucible. It’ born of a despair that’s partly material; her job provides the medical insurance she needs as a pregnant single-mother-to-be. Micah’s despair derives from the vision of God his unhappy life forces on him.
Between them is jovial hick Gene, the orphaned Micah’s informal guardian, and a believer in motherhood and apple-pie – at least, his wife’s lemon meringue. He approves the unmarried Susan’s pregnancy as a sign of a right-to-life belief. Between the New Yorker adrift, and Perry Millward’s finely-drawn picture of adolescent intensity, steely absolutism and glimpses of humanity (offering Susan his medical insurance), Ciaran McIntyre’s cheerily grizzled Gene shows a wit within his limited horizons.
No heroes, no villains but a clear case of how one country can contain two contrasting sets of assumptions. So, unsurprisingly, the attempted reconciliation of faith and science in a letter to the press doesn’t survive examination, in a play that ends intermixing sympathy and hostility.
Susan: Anna Francolini.
Gene: Ciaran McIntyre.
Micah: Perry Millward.
Director: Des Kennedy.
Designer: Alyson Cummins.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Sound: Paul Millen.
Video: Ben Gutteridge.
Voice coach: Marj McDaid.