Love the Sinner

Drew Pautz
RNT Cottesloe Theatre
(2010)

Production photo

Drew Pautz clearly wrote Love the Sinner with a message uppermost in his mind and it remains there throughout a play that takes on the interaction between the Anglican Church and homosexuality, with Third World issues thrown in for luck.

This is a topical subject that, like African hotel porter Joseph, cannot be persuaded to hide from view, whatever the embarrassing consequences.

While Joseph, played by the highly promising Fiston Barek making his professional stage debut, flits through the play, its central figure is Born Again, evangelising Michael. For 2¼ hours we follow Jonathan Cullen's character as he gets deeper and deeper into the mire of his own weakness, both mental and physical.

The play opens with a global conclave of bishops in an African hotel, desperately trying to reach unanimity over the knotty problem of whether in addition to women (who have a token American representative at the table), homosexuals should be allowed to join their number.

This long scene eventually takes on the character that one pictures of the similar fraught, political negotiations behind closed doors between potential rulers of our United Kingdom, which were taking place as the play enjoyed its opening night.

The meeting's strange conclusion introduces the ever-bolshy Joseph to the indecisive and ineffectual group, for whom Michael has been acting as a voluntary secretary.

We then move to a hotel room for a post-coital discussion between a guilty Michael and the demanding African boy, who now expects English citizenship as a reward for his night-time exertions.

Love the Sinner then decamps to England, where we observe the strains on Michael's marriage to the deeply (and justifiably) frustrated Shelly, played very sympathetically by Charlotte Randle.

All that she wants is love and a baby before she gets too old but the increasingly unstable Michael is solely interested in his own brand of religion. This seems to have much more to do with using a symbolic fig leaf to cover his own inadequacies from himself than the worship of any divine being.

The play ends in comedy rather than resolution, as a weak Bishop (Ian Redford) is confronted with the two men in most unlikely circumstances.

Love the Sinner would like to be a full-scale tragedy, where a man is haunted to at least spiritual death by the consequences of a single indiscretion. In fact, it seems more like a tormented soul's nightmare in which guilt takes over, unbounded by the normal limits of reason, with Michael's now awfully scarred nemesis inexplicably appearing from across the world to castigate him.

While the messages are at times intriguing, the structure and plotting of this work take a distant second place. Drew Pautz manipulates the characters and the story for his own ends, which means that some very worthy moral ideas do not get quite the airing that they deserve.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher