David Ralf’s new play is certainly intellectually ambitious. On a sparse stage filled with only simple rustic kitchenware he tells the story of writing a gospel.
He tackles the ideas of authorship, memory and politicisation through the varying accounts of the women of Antioch and their memories of Jesus. However, the strong script occasionally limits the drama onstage. The play’s focus on the importance of words and memory at times detracts from the drama, with the lack of action resulting in some stilted scenes lacking energy or movement. Long, static, seated discussions and stories lost the visual appeal otherwise sustained throughout.
Despite these criticisms the action was driven through the strength of the script and the dynamic performances of each of the four strong cast. Alexandra Walsh’s excellent portrayal of a cuttingly cynical Martha sparked many scenes into life and energy lacking elsewhere. Her sharp interplay with Mary, Florence Oakley, and Robyn, Eleanor Hafner, acts as a vibrant battleground of cynicism against idealism, a testing ground for the fundamentals of the play.
The characters’ interaction began sluggishly. However, they reach pinnacles of energy as each character tells her story, a moment of raw emotion which is transfixing, especially Martha’s bitter tale of Lazarus. At the final entrance of the uncomfortable and flawed John Mark, a character made brilliantly awkward by Ed Holcroft, the visceral anger of Mary engulfs the stage.
The play’s setting, on a stage bereft of anything other than simple furniture, with the audience arranged either side highlights the themes of transparency and honesty. Themes which, as the stage fills and the actions begin to overlap, get lost amongst the murk of John Mark’s politicisation of the women’s tales.
Overall, this is an ideologically demanding script which the cast have to work hard to transcribe to the stage. In a transition they make well, the individual performances are gripping and outweigh the occasional stilted scene early on. It is a combination of the intellectual and the entertaining well worth seeing.