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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Faith Machine at The Royal Court

‘The Faith Machine’ is a loaded title for a play, despite the central topics of faith and capitalism it seems a little over dramatic to me. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s third play is staged at the Royal Court Theatre after his first two plays received exceptional responses from audiences and critics. I went along to the UK premiere, and joined the excited throng. I spotted several familiar faces in the crowd, including a certain famous bald actor who I struggled to identify throughout the evening, a challenge that kept me quite preoccupied. Finally my blackberry answered my vague question – bald actors' names? He was, in fact, Stanley Tucci from ER.

The Faith Machine is set over ten years and follows the lives of a young couple, Sophie and Tom, their inevitable connection and the consequences of their choices as young adults. It begins on a fateful morning in New York - Sophie requires an answer from Tom, a decision that will change both of their lives forever.

In fact, the story reminded me of ‘One Day’, the David Nicholls book that has just come out at the cinema. Essentially the message that love conquers all is a constant in both narratives. Both focus on a young couple, a strident girl and a less strong minded boyfriend; and although One Day is more trivial, the overriding message feels the same, a girl on a quest to prove something and make a difference. They conclude with parallel tragic endings.

The Faith Machine jumps to and fro within the ten year time span, making the production at times rather incoherent. Sophie’s father, Edward, is the pivotal character; a bishop who, after dedicating his life to the church, is now furiously rebelling against its beliefs and rules, threatening to leave forever. He is the voice of change and reason throughout the play, and the affecting force in his daughter’s life. Of the cast, I found him most convincing, thanks to a wonderfully thoughtful performance from Ian McDiarmid, who I recently saw in the National’s Emperor and Galilean. Kyle Soller as Tom and Hayley Atwell as Sophie both have an appropriate eager youthfulness to them, and give fine performances as the leading couple, though they both seemed a little shaky at the start.

The set is bare, with very few props to assist the actors. Mesmerising film projections from Lorna Heavey fill the gaps between scenes and add an ethereal touch. Director Jamie Lloyd seems to focus attention on the dialogue, cleverly written by Campbell to reflect each character's nationality. It is an intense piece and I felt alert throughout, despite the lengthy running time. Even if a little baffled by the overall message conveyed, on the whole I found this production appealing and now am keen to experience some of Campbell’s other work.

The Faith Machine continues until 1 October, book here.

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