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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Faith Machine
Royal Court Theatre    Autumn 2011

As its title suggests, Alexi Kaye Campbell's new play is an examination of faith in its various forms and guises, but the playwright takes on so much that some of the connections and some of the ways what is being talked about qualify as 'faith' are not as clear to us as they are to him. 

So the play that is more successful in individual scenes than as a whole leaves the overall impression of being one more rewrite away from success. 

A veteran Anglican bishop resigns over the church's position on homosexuals and another bishop argues the need to take conservative stands to hold the church together. A man working in advertising is attacked by his girlfriend for taking on the account of an immoral pharmaceutical company. A gay man gets married. The rebellious bishop and the adman discuss their respective callings. Late in the play we discover that the woman who was so outraged by the drug company back in the first scene had actually done something with her anger. 

You can see the outline of the picture the playwright is painting, but even from that list you can see how it isn't quite hanging together. 

Any play that kills off its best character early on, kills a second character without warning between scenes, introduces a couple of unnecessary characters just for a secondary plot line and then drops them, and then waits until the very last scene to introduce a major character we haven't even had mention of earlier has gotten away from its author, and all the efforts of director Jamie Lloyd and the cast can't keep it from spinning off in too many unconnected directions.

Still, individual scenes like the debate between the two bishops, individual characters like the rage-fueled bishop, and even individual plot lines like the essentially irrelevant but believable and touching way the lovers of the first scene continue to haunt each other after their break-up do have considerable theatrical power and will hold your interest and emotional involvement at least until those particular scenes end and the play jumps to something else. 

Unsurprisingly, Ian McDiarmid gives the outstanding performance of the evening, investing the bishop with passion and dignity even when the play incapacitates him with a stroke.

Hayley Atwell as his daughter and the adman's lover goes far toward creating a real character out of what is really little more than the voice of a particular moral absolutism, and Kyle Soller holds our sympathy in the underwritten role of the adman.

Jude Akuwudike has fun with the two very contrasting roles of the conservative bishop and the gay bridegroom, and the rest of the cast do what they can with roles that haven't fully been integrated into the play's texture.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Faith Machine - Royal Court 2011

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