Back to the Arcola, the environmentally-friendly theatre so committed to reversing global warming that its new venue recreates conditions in the Arctic. At least you're slightly less likely to get frostbite in the smaller Studio 2, whose inaugural production is Richard Vergette's As We Forgive Them. Its three roughly 30-minute-long scenes each take place after a US Presidential election, in 2008, 2012 and 2016 in the visiting room of a maximum security prison. Newly-elected Democrat congressman John Daniels (Michael Anthony Brown) is visiting Lee Fenton (Joe Sims,) convicted of murdering Daniels' daughter. Having always opposed the death penalty the congressman refuses to go against his principles even when the crime affects his own family and has instead asked for Lee's sentence to be reduced to life imprisonment, on condition that the uneducated prisoner be taught to read and write - by Daniels himself.
Andrew Pearson's taut production holds the interest throughout and both actors give strong performances; in the first half-hour, Sims' angry redneck has given himself rather too many psycho-killer tics for my taste, the thought that came to mind being that it was all a bit "Oscar clip." But he's undeniably scary and, given how Lee develops in the subsequent scenes, it could be argued that when we first meet him the character himself is putting on an act based on how he imagines a psychopath to behave. The play itself seems like it'll be mainly concerned with capital punishment but soon veers off into interesting different areas, like whether political ambition can be channelled into genuine changes for the better, revenge, every political adminstration's changes being doomed to reversal by the next and how the Christian ideas of forgiveness referenced in the title work in reality. All through there's the question of what John's ulterior motive might be, and whether it's politically or personally motivated. Vergette throws in a couple of genuine twists in the final scene although in the last fifteen minutes he perhaps tries to shift our sympathies a few times too many. Undoubtedly an interesting evening though.
As We Forgive Them by Richard Vergette is booking until the 19th of February at the Arcola Theatre.