THE ARCHBISHOP AND THE ANTICHRIST
by Michael Ashton.
Soho Theatre To 21 May 2011.
Runs 2 hr One interval.
Review: Martin Franks 19 May.
Powerful, important, well performed play that could aspire even more.
This is an important and powerful play, albeit a very static and talky piece, consisting mostly of duologues, often with the characters seated in opposition. It’s not always a successful style. Yet, with some beefing up, Michael Ashton’s new drama – second in Synergy Theatre’s Soho seasonh this month – would work well elsewhere.
Jeffery Kissoon’s charming and human portrayal of a man whose name the world knows, Desmund Tutu, is the cornerstone. It’s a delicate and accessible performance, though suffering from stumbles. His confrontations with the frighteningly insane but deeply damaged Boer killer Piet Blomfeld, played brilliantly by Oscar Pearce, are the play’s emotional centre.
Alongside this is Tutu’s caring and emotional relationship with his wife Leah, played passionately though sometimes melodramatically by Pamela Nomvete. Tutu’s exchanges with Peter Cartwright as the manipulative but complex De Clerk and Dona Croll in a strong performance as Winnie Mandela, are enlightening political parallels into the mind of a brave, struggling good man. As he says, “I did not stop being a man when I became a pastor”.
And that’s part of the strength and weakness of this piece. It’s full of wonderful flecks of dialogue – “I killed them to save me agony”, “Our people will not find peace unless we exorcise the demons”, “It was the policy that was bad, not the perpetrators”. Real rhetorical flourish for a core global battle.
The piece limits itself therefore by giving itself a name that suggests a theological fight which, important as it might be for Tutu, has so little resonance for many. For the conflicts of South Africa to continue to have contemporary international resonance, the play needs to focus more on Tutu as a symbol and the global pain of Truth and Reconciliation.
FW de Clerk: Peter Cartwright.
Lavinia Browne/Winnie Mandela: Dona Croll.
Desmond Tutu : Jeffery Kissoon.
Leah Tutu: Pamel Nomvete.
Piet Blomfeld: Oscar OPearce.
Director: Lucy Kerbel.
Costume: Nicky Bunch.
Assistant director: Lily Springer.