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Theatre review: The Faith Machine 
5th-Sep-2011 11:22 pm
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The theological theme from last week continues, plus the beginning of the 9/11 theme that will of course be a recurring one this 10th anniversary month, with the first production in the Royal Court's autumn season. Although in the case of Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Faith Machine 9/11 isn't a thematic crux, more a structural one as the opening scene takes place on that day and from there the action plays out both forwards and backwards in time. The central relationship of Sophie and Tom (Hayley Atwell and Kyle Soller) breaks up on that day as his commitment to his advertising job, and the contract with a dodgy pharmaceutical company, takes precedence for him over her principles. Although it's never stated where Tom works, this breakup argument may be saving his life, as there's several mentions of it making him late for work. Over the ensuing three acts, we see the couple back in happier times, and on the only two occasions they ever meet again in 2006 and 2010.

The play is a strange mix of the satisfying and unsatisfying; the latter being the feeling that in aiming for an epic sweep Kaye Campbell has ended up somewhat unfocused and I never got a handle on what the play was ultimately meant to be about. However this isn't another God of Soho that felt as if it had nothing at its core, more as if the writer was aiming for something he didn't quite achieve. There's also a bit too much of the archetype about many of the characters. But the satisfying parts of the play are very satisfying, the dialogue is excellent and there's some brilliant moments of humour here. Kaye Campbell has also given an absolute gift of a role to Ian McDiarmid, a great actor who's in recent years played a lot of roles that didn't allow him to showcase his talents but here gets to do so in spades. Though technically a supporting role (Sophie is the moral heart of the play, Tom the narrative one) as Sophie's father Edward we get to see him convincingly play (in chronological if not performance order) a disillusioned, angry Bishop who's just resigned from the Church because of its attitude on gay marriage; then a broken, senile man who needs his daughter to change his nappies; and a sardonic ghost. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't feature heavily in the next awards season.

He's not alone in giving a strong performance though, with Bronagh Gallagher a hilariously blunt influence as Edward's Russian housekeeper, and Kyle Soller also particularly good - it's nice to be able to see him in a play that I can sit all the way through again. Ian who came with me to this one was also impressed, and said it must definitely have been his performance because he doesn't fancy gingers, no definitely not, even if Soller spends quite a lot of the play in his boxers. Which I don't have a photo of so here's this instead, with Atwell:


Jamie Lloyd is the director so things never drag, the only thing extending the evening is the two intervals (as the play only runs to 2hrs 40min including them, they're presumably there more to highlight the non-linear three-act two-scene pairings than anything else.) Kaye Campbell explains the title near the end but I was none the wiser; having read it again in the playtext programme I think he's saying that certain people are almost pre-programmed to believe in something. I'd argue with him over whether that's just some people, I think it's universal (whether people see it in themselves or are willing to accept it is a different story.) In aiming to tackle the big questions of life The Faith Machine ends up a flawed construction, but is entertaining along the way and worth seeing.

The Faith Machine by Alexi Kaye Campbell is booking until the 1st of October at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.
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