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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
LOVE THE SINNER
at the National (Cottesloe)

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND SEX
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Charlotte Randle and Jonathan Cullen/ Ph: Keith Pattison

No one can accuse Drew Pautz's Love the Sinner of lacking ambition. His subject is religion. His object uncertain.
 
It's about the schisms that exist in the Anglican Communion, both personally and politically. Unfortunately, what emerges is a rather woolly and unfocused drama about the guilt and angst of a deeply religious and tortured individual at war with his faith and his sexuality.
 
The play opens in a room at Crown-Plaza hotel in an unnamed African country where a delegation of Anglican bishops from Africa, Britain, Australia and America have convened to discuss such sensitive topics as the acceptance of homosexuality and civil partnerships, as well as the broader issue of whether the Anglican Church is failing to keep up with the changing times.
 
"Open too many doors," says John (Paul Bentall), the Australian delegate, "and you get nothing but cold wind rushing round inside the house." Paul (Louis Mahoney), representing Africa, agrees. Hannah (Nancy Crane) from America is more open minded. Unlike Paul, she disapproves, say, of capital punishment, arguing "for perspective, above and beyond."
 
In the same camp as Hannah is Stephen (Ian Redford), a bishop reminiscent of Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury, who is in charge of the proceedings. Diligently taking the minutes of the conference is Michael (Jonathan Cullen), virtually invisible in the opening scene, but who becomes the fulcrum on which the play pivots.
 
In the second scene, which takes place in a hotel bedroom, a casual sexual encounter between Michael and Joseph (Fiston Barek), a local black porter, turns sinister when the boy threatens to blackmail him unless he arranges to take him out of Africa and into England with him. Michael, who's married, is horrified at the prospect and, of course, won't hear of it.
 
Exacerbating the guilt Michael feels on his return home is his refusal on moral and religious grounds to allow his childless wife Shelly (Charlotte Randall), to undergo IVF treatment.
 
With so many issues – from sexual guilt, marital disharmony and the Anglican Church's attitude towards illegal asylum-seekers, to the religious divergences and beliefs held by third-world countries compared to our own – it's hard, in the end, to know what the play is actually saying. 
 
Joseph's sudden arrival in the United Kingdom is highly unlikely with no explanation provided for how he managed this on his porter's salary or how he was able to clear customs. There's a ludicrous scene in which, to prove his love for his wife, Michael strips naked in his workplace (he manufactures envelopes) in what fortunately turns out to be an interrupted attempt at passionate sex with her. Nor do we ever learn what her response is to his bisexuality.
 
Pautz's stylized dialogue, with its ellipses, repetitions and overlapping can be lively as well as irritating, and while, undeniably, the situation has an in-built tension to it, you never really care about the unresolved issues or, more damagingly, any of the characters. Michael is a mass of contradictions, which Jonathan Cullen's intense performance is unable to reconcile. Charlotte Randall's Shelley is the play's least sympathetic character (including Fiston Barek's blackmailing Joseph), while Ian Redford's anodyne Stephen is underwritten.
 
 


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