By Richard Stewart
Where’s the proof? What’s the right thing to believe in? If God (x), then how can (y) etc. It’s the difference between those who can live their life by faith and those who can’t that forms the central conflict of The Believers. Maud and Ollie are The Believers, who in the spirit of charity invite their neighbours Joff and Marianne to take shelter from a storm whose rising flood waters threaten their house and the lives of their daughter Grace’s soft toys. While Grace and the Believers’ daughter Joyous (‘named after one of Maud’s orgasms’) play upstairs and remain offstage throughout, the couples spend the night with dinner, plenty of white rioja and eventually recreational drugs as they clash on the issue of belief with each other as well as battling their own internal demons.
Constraint breeds creativity they say, so the Bar of our own BLT has the potential to be a hive of imaginative creation. It’s not a great space – it’s small and technically frugal, light leaks through every crack in the ceiling and if I were to give my honest opinion on those pillars it would eat through my word count (and expand some vocabularies). Crooked Wood, however, reassured me that if anyone was going to squeeze every bit of potential from the Bar’s idiosyncracies it would be Jessica-Ann Jenner. The pillars went from perennial nuisance to the central focus of the set, dividing the stage into distinct sections and utilising an ingenious fold out frame to create a dining room table, as well as supporting the actors during the spectacular ‘flying’ scene.
What actors they are too. I don’t think I really found any of the characters ‘likable’ – they aren’t written particularly well enough for that – but the performers wrung every drop of talent out to bring them to life and make them relatable. Both couples had perfect chemistry with their respective partner, and both in look and attitude perfectly challenged their opposite numbers, the guests’ laidback and looser movement and costume wonderfully at odds with the Believers’ smarter, clean- cut look. Jaimi Keemer as Maud ran the gamut between wide-eyed happy innocence and mischievous seductress, with the slight potential of menace when required. Her husband Ollie (James Mercer) was a perfect partner for her, matching her qualities wonderfully but always possessing a sinister undercurrent that James excels at. Andrew Newbon as Joff started rather stiff, but as his character relaxed the veneer sloughed off and his vulnerability and neuroses, previously overshadowed by his wife came to the fore. Hazal Han was for me, the shining jewel in this dark piece. Sardonic cynicism to hide her weakness and worry oozed from her every pore and there wasn’t a moment she was on stage I wasn’t watching her. Arguably she had the lion’s share of the humour, but she had to counterbalance this with the emotional gut-punching the later stages of the action called for, and she brought more than one audience member to horrified tears by the conclusion.
I don’t think The Believers was perfect, by any means. The structure and the characters have in hindsight left me rather underwhelmed, but I hesitate to take points off the production for the script’s faults. It also opened rather slowly – the first few scenes were rather underpaced until the show hit its stride – and the ‘comfort’ break I personally considered completely unnecessary, breaking the flow and emotion of the show for a scene change that didn’t seem major enough to warrant an end to the action (I know there were some bladders in the room who would disagree with me.)
However, I can’t deny that The Believers exemplifies everything I want BLT to try more of – somewhat more ambitious and emotional shows both technically and physically. The movement and physical elements were never too much but really helped emphasise the emotional state of the moment and is something that can really be used more in future, especially in so intimate a space as the Bar. Performances were stellar throughout, possibly the best work I’ve seen from every actor and a triumph for the Bar as a venue.