by Steve Hawes.
Haymarket Theatre To 24 October 2009.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 22 Oct 2.30 pm.
Runs 2hr 05min One interval.
Tickets: 01256 844244.
Review: Mark Courtice 20 October.
More theological argument than scandal at the convent
Steve Hawes’ new play is set in a Venetian convent in 1609. A Papal inspection is due, but when the Pope’s envoy Ricci arrives it’s clear that he brings a greater threat. A scandal has come to the attention of the Inquisition.
Under the habits. passions boil. There is a game of cat-and-mouse between the inquisitor and the abbess, and a secret love affair. Music and drama, the convent’s consolations, are seen as a threat by the visitor.
It’s all a bit unlikely, especially as we only meet the bonkers and the desperate – there is no-one normal here. Strangely, despite the fevered ingredients, it’s not very exciting.
This is because it’s mostly theological argument linked by thinly written plot. The seductions and play-acting are more embarrassing than fun. There is also little obvious relevance to Basingstoke in 2009. Whatever problems we have, the upper classes do not send their younger daughters into religious imprisonment, and the urgency of the Roman church’s response to the austerity of the reformation has cooled somewhat in the intervening 400 years.
Monteverdi’s music is a constant accompaniment to the story. It is interestingly used, as a solo part is sung live (very well), with the music as a sort of counterpoint to the action on stage. The problem is it drags the pace to Monteverdi’s measured if sinuous tempo, leaching the production’s energy.
Hilary Tones, as abbess Clementia, seems lost and distracted as she struggles with the clunky writing, which matters as she should be the driving force. David Michaels makes Ricci so buttoned-up that there’s not much else in the way of character. Mabel Jones as the novice Faustina has energy, which helps with her desperation as she tries to get out of the convent’s maw. Amanda Hallworth works hard to be the light relief as singing nun Angelina.
Stephen Holroyd’s set looks good, pushing the action downstage with curved stone walls and a massive crucifix upstage. It’s let down by the detail, with joins in the flats showing and a floor that looks as if it’s from B and Q.
Clementia Hilary Tones.
Ricci David Michaels.
Evangelina Amanda Hallworth.
Faustina Mabel Jones.
Alessandro Thomas Wilton.
Chorister Amanda Smallbone.
Directors: Paul Chamberlain, Stephen Hall.
Designer: Stephen Holroyd.
Musical Director: Stephen Solloway.