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Alexi Kaye Campbell’s credits are short, but mightily impressive, having written two plays, ‘The Pride’ and ‘Apologia’, both of which won all manner of awards, and tackled such prickly subjects as gay rights and feminism. Both those subjects crop up again, but are overshadowed by faith and the free market economy, represented by those two dog-tired behemoths of the age, advertising and pharmaceuticals.
The play opens in New York in September 2001 (note the date) with a high-octane row between Tom, a vituperative adman and his idealistic English girlfriend, Sophie, about the ethical questions of working on a campaign for a pharmaceutical company that used three hundred Ugandan children as ‘unapproved human testing’. Many died, and the remainder developed deformities. Tom does not see a conflict between morality and profit, and they part. The scene ends with a deafening and shocking montage of 9/11 (ah, that date). The scene moves to a Greek island three years earlier, where Sophie’s father, Edward, a bishop, is wrestling with his own faith, having left the church over the question of gay rights. He is looked after by a Russian ex-hooker, Tatyana, in a broad comic role. There is another very good row between him and a Kenyan bishop, Patrick, sent out to Patmos to lure him back. Then Tom and Sophie turn up, and there is a cringe-worthy, behind-the-sofa moment when Tom asks the bishops what they actually do for a living. More verbal fisticuffs between the two bishops, this time about gays and the Anglican church.
We then fast-forward eight years to a gay wedding in an English country-house hotel. Sophie has a Chilean boyfriend in tow, and Tom has flown in from the US with his rangy interior decorator girlfriend, Annie, but Tom still loves Sophie. There is a confusing theatrical conceit, whereby the gay black guy, Lawrence, is played by the same actor as the homophobic black bishop, which scrambled this critic’s brains. The room fades and we are back in Patmos with Tom, Sophie, Tatyana and Edward, who is becoming more demented, spouting biblical texts. He is also incontinent, which involves a gratuitously distasteful scene, and one has to wonder whether the Royal Court is becoming obsessed with this subject, as there was one in a previous production of Chicken Soup with Barley. There is another massive row between Tom and Sophie, redolent of One Day, and it was useful to have the playtext to hand to count the number of times the F-word was used in one particular scene - there were sixteen in eleven lines of dialogue, which must make the play eligible for some kind of award. The acting is taut, and there are a few well-targeted jokes, which did not interrupt the flow.
Mr Campbell seemed to have used his palette to produce a rich ethnic mix, comprising the English father and daughter, a Chilean Marxist, a Ukranian, a black Kenyan, a gay British black man, a pair of Americans and Agatha, a seventeen year-old Ugandan, who was one of the child victims of the laboratory test. Kyle Soller is excellent as the irritating Tom, and Sophie is a good foil for his wavering beliefs, although she is not a very convincing drunk, with too many flashes of articulate lucidity to be credible. Ian McDiarmid puts in a solid performance as the faltering cleric, and Jude Akuwudike is terrific in both roles. The sets are minimal, if not unfurnished, with scene changes being done with lighting and projections. This is a passionate, but flawed, play with a strong message about the battle between commercialism, ideology, identity and faith.