Gate Theatre (London)
The ninth play to open at Traverse during the 2015 Festival Fringe is the first to feature more than three people on stage and, the heavens be thanked, there are five actors accompanied by a 25-strong choir.
Visitors to this theatre know that when a choir appears on stage, trouble is brewing. Whereas in David Greig’s The Events the problem was slaughter on a large scale, in this production by Christopher Haydon for London’s Gate Theatre, the issues are purely theological.
However, when the argument relates to the existence or otherwise of Hell, it could be suggested that mass murder pales into insignificance.
Following a couple of tuneful, happy clappy hymns to warm up the audience, William Gaminara’s silver-tongued Pastor Paul delivers a long sermon.
In it he explains how his ministry, situated somewhere in the United States and which has just become financially solvent, started as a storefront church but has now grown to be more of a religious shopping mall.
He then goes on to declare that Hell is a fabrication and, on interrogation, even suggests that Adolf Hitler is now probably sunning himself in Heaven.
Rather than turning the other cheek, parishioners are less charitable to the man who has led them to security but now challenges one of their fundamentalist beliefs.
In succession, four opposing voices challenge the increasingly cowed man of God.
First up is his assistant, Joshua, played by Stefan Adegbola. He enters into a heated debate about the meaning and construction of biblical passages before suggesting a vote which inevitably leads to schism.
David Calvitto’s ineffectual board member and Lucy Ellinson emerging from the choir as a token representative of ordinary folk provide more rebuttable opposition.
However, the coup de grace is delivered by Jaye Griffiths playing Pastor Paul’s devoted and loving wife. She loves the man but what of the theology?
The Christians is more a series of theological debates that obliquely comment on the United States today than a conventional play. It might also be read as a metaphor for today’s turbulent political times.
It will certainly appeal to those interested in religion and the people who do their best to keep it popular in our secular age but also those that enjoy spirited debates of any kind.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher