first night

Agnes of God

Tyler Rainford has an intense evening's entertainment in a nunnery with CTC's Agnes of God


John Pielmeier’s dark, psychological drama, Agnes of God, is hardly something to be considered an evening of light entertainment. With a plot revolving around the character of Agnes (Jenny Walser), a young, emotionally scarred nun, facing trial over accusations of infanticide, the play is stuffed with moral and spiritual issues our ever-changing society is regularly forced to confront in the modern age. Although the performance possessed some minor, scarcely noticeable, first night issues, what director Kate Barton and her team have achieved is nothing short of a triumph.


Castle’s Tunstall Chapel was an excellent choice of location for such an intense piece of theatre. With the aisle between the pews forming a handy traverse stage, the audience was immersed in Agnes’ world of religious devotion and social dislocation. Flickering candles and a couple of footlights certainly contributed to the final effect. Such a long and narrow performance space, however, inevitably led to some unavoidably irksome staging decisions, which largely resulted in a considerable amount of action being out of some audience members’ sightlines. Nevertheless, the cast clearly tried their utmost to overcome this, whilst maintaining an almost seamless sense of naturalism.


Due to the intimacy of this performance space it was both mesmerising and admirable to watch the cast of three interact in such close proximity to their audience. Psychiatrist, Dr Martha Livingstone’s (Jessica Christy) frequent clashes with Mother Superior Miriam Ruth (Georgie Franklin) were undoubtedly intense and compelling to witness. Although there were understandably some moments where confidence was perhaps lacking, their movements were emanated magnificently in such a small space, where every little gesture, from the tap of a cigarette to the flit of an eyelid was magnified and held up to scrutiny.


Despite being somewhat hampered by the occasionally strained dialogue, especially during the monologues, Christy’s portrayal of Dr Livingstone was superb. The demanding role was championed with gusto as Christy successfully illustrated the many facets of Livingstone’s character from professional court psychiatrist to emotionally attached truth-seeker. Franklin’s performance as Mother Superior was equally as entrancing. Franklin captured the Mother Superior’s enigmatic character dexterously and certainly commanded the room whenever her voice was raised.


Without intending to sap any praise away from these two astonishing performances, it has to be said that Walser’s portrayal of the naïve and traumatised Agnes was certainly the most remarkable aspect of this evening’s performance. Everything, from her eerily creepy lullabies to her expressions of delirious anguish, was executed with magnificent precision and care. Going through the motions of a woman giving birth, even during hypnotism, is no mean feat for any performer.


Although the climax of this piece was certainly more underwhelming than I had anticipated, I feel this was primarily down to the nature of the play itself. I maintain that the quality of the performance was compelling through and through: the interplay between these three women was absolutely fascinating to watch. Their characterisations and interactions are certainly the highlight of this play, even though this was unfortunately peppered with tiresome remarks about religion and science that we’ve all heard one thousand times over. Nevertheless, the small cast and crew should be immensely proud of their interpretation of Pielmeier’s work. It’s certainly a must see for this term. 

9 May 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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