As something of a believer myself, I took my seat in the intimate theatre space above the Prince Albert in Notting Hill intrigued to see what ‘The Christians’ had in store for its audience. Sitting opposite me and staring back, the choir were already onstage and ready to burst into lively song once the show was ready to begin.
I did find the opening song a little dull – but then the chorus segued into a lively and enjoyable second number and, as the principle characters began filling the stage, the production quickly took off. Soon, Pastor Paul was welcoming his congregation into his church and beginning his sermon of the day. However, Pastor Paul’s message to his loyal flock was a little different today, as he spoke of a radical change in the church and what his congregation must now believe. Most notably, he suggested that perhaps there is no hell and no devil – and that everyone may enter heaven, believer or not.
What follows is an interesting exploration of what happens when we actually question why we believe the things we say we believe. Lucas Hynath’s writing is clever, and he challenges us almost constantly throughout the show. Pastor Paul’s revelation at what he says he now believes initiates a torrent of difficult questions being thrown at him – as well as his entire life being impacted into the bargain. Not only does his congregation begin to dwindle, but his very motives are questioned and even his marriage and family life start to suffer.
Anyone would be hard pushed to criticise the acting in this play. William Gaminara was particularly convincing as an experienced pastor – I even started to nod off during his sermon (only joking!). But my favourite performance had to be by Lucy Ellinson, who played one of Pastor Paul’s congregants. Timidly, she asks the Pastor some pretty challenging questions, in a way which is both humorous yet poignant. And for every awkward question she has, the audience waits with baited breath to hear what the Pastor’s response could possibly be.
I’m not sure who would enjoy this production most – probably those of us who do ask the bigger questions on a regular basis. But I would still recommend this show to anyone; that is, unless they wanted a relaxing evening at the theatre where everything they might’ve thought they believed wasn’t thrown into question!
Reviewed by Rachel Callaghan
Photo: Iona Firouzabadi
The Christians is playing at the Gate Theatre until 3 October 2015. Click here for tickets