Brave Company tackle the questions at Abbey Theatre, St Albans

PUBLISHED: 11:21 14 May 2009 | UPDATED: 14:07 06 May 2010

God Only Knows how the five-strong cast of the Company of Ten kept it together at the Abbey Theatre on Saturday night. They were performing an abstruse, extremely wordy play by Hugh Whitemore examining the arguments for the existence of God through a surp

God Only Knows how the five-strong cast of the Company of Ten kept it together at the Abbey Theatre on Saturday night.

They were performing an abstruse, extremely wordy play by Hugh Whitemore examining the arguments for the existence of God through a surprising medium.

God Only Knows catapults four friends and one outsider (a Deus ex machina perhaps?) into a scenario which threatens their security and the underpinnings of their beliefs.

Written in the form of a thriller, the play attempts to unravel the complicated history of religion in ways reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. It also drew on more erudite works such as The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.

Amazingly, the play worked on a variety of levels although I felt it could have got bogged down in its sheer wordiness at times.

Undoubtedly, the linchpin of the whole thing was Company of Ten veteran Roger Scales, who as Humphrey Biddulph had more lines than anyone else and managed to perform them in a highly believable manner. Was he a conman or wasn't he? We, the audience are left wondering but if he was a conman then we can see why the four friends are foxed by him because he managed to engage our sympathies. Even after he has pulled a gun on the others we still find ourselves believing in him and sympathising with his alleged fugitive status. Shades again of the persecuted Christ figure perhaps.

Much of the humour of the piece came from Mial Pagan as Vin Coker, the boozy Celt (not sure if he was Irish or Scots, sorry) who was my second favourite of the evening. I think his performance lent much of the credibility to the evening.

His pompous ass 'chum' Charles Minto (Peter Jeffreys), whom he clearly loathed with justification, could have done with being a shade more obnoxious although he too carried a very wordy part with gravitas.

Some of the understated humour of the piece came from Suzie Major playing the despised second wife who had replaced Charles' first wife Alice in his affections.

Kate Coker and her husband obviously seriously resented their friend Alice being ousted by the new wife but Kate (Joan Head) maintains a sense of fair play and convinces us of her inherent goodness and common sense.

So Humphrey bursts into this uneasy melange of alleged friends and exposes the fragility of their selves and their relationships.

I don't know if there was a mistake in the programme but it suggests that not only was this tour de force ably directed by Yvonne Harding but it would appear that we have her to thank for the fine set design also. The set - a villa in Tuscany - really transported you to a balmy al fresco Italian evening.

The 'helicopter' at the end - with its biblical shades of an avenging angel - brought the whole piece to a satisfying if confusing conclusion.

In life as in art it is not always possible to establish whether people are more sinned-against than sinning and we were left with a huge question mark over the veracity of the interloper.

It was a brave choice of play and the Company of Ten are to be commended for tackling such a thoughtful piece of work.

MARY BROSNAN

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