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The God Botherers

Richard Bean
Bush Theatre
(2003)

The God Botherers is one of those rarities, a really funny comedy with depth. It explores serious political and social issues but never loses a wicked sense of humour.

The play is set in the mythical Tambia, a backward African country where more people have AIDS than mobile phones, and focuses on the efforts of two development workers. The suitably world-weary Clash-fan Keith has been everywhere, done everything and got every tee-shirt.

By contrast, Laura, the only white woman for 300 square miles, starts off as an idealistic airhead who talks like the latest Miss World and wears a Gucci hijab (headdress). Richard Bean then charts her progress to old lag.

While the comedy is often to the fore, especially in the first half, the play does not shirk important issues. It addresses religion, globalisation, the suppression of women and real poverty, in oblique ways. It also demonstrates that the lives of the two English people are as lonely, if not as brutalised, as those of their local counterparts.

Bean has the ability to create believable comic characters and while Muslim women are forced to hide beneath the burqa and await death for having daughters, the men do not always fare much better.

David Oyelowo, last seen as a noble King of England, plays Monday, a jack-the-lad whose ambition is to buy the permitted three wives. Unfortunately, he gets the wrong side of the local Muslim fundamentalists, receiving a fearful but cleverly underplayed lashing. It is inevitable, though that this cheerful soul will rise to a happy ending.

Georgia Mackenzie's Laura may be unbelievably naive on arrival but she soon introduces unimagined new technologies such as the mobile phone, with hilarious results. Her innate goodness means that she achieves much, usually by doing all of the wrong things.

The God Botherers is another Bush success, well directed by William Kerley. It is very funny with super performances from Miss Mackenzie and Olewoyo. It also has an underlying seriousness, thanks to Richard Bean's detailed research, that lifts it well beyond the ordinary. This is definitely a show to see.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher