THEATRE REVIEW: The Vigil by Ladislas Fodor, St Nicolas Players, St Peter and St Paul's Church, Gosberton
It has been said that amateur theatre is in crisis.
In these belt-tightening times, societies and groups are being forced either to cancel shows or close down altogether.
In this environment, it is all the more impressive for St Nicolas Players to present a show as esoteric as The Vigil.
This production was created alongside their other show at South Holland Centre recently, The Darling Buds Of May.
But if Darling Buds was their cosy ITV offering, then The Vigil was more of a BBC4 drama.
It’s always a challenge for amateur companies to balance the desire for innovative theatre with the financial need to put bums on seats (or pews in this case – more of which later).
So St Nics deserve credit for both trying and succeeding in this endeavour.
The structure of the show is plain enough, the trial of the gardener tending Jesus Christ’s tomb.
Did he steal Jesus’ body or was something more spiritual at work?
The Vigil doesn’t ram home a particular viewpoint, rather posing questions and leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions in their unofficial role as ‘the jury’.
At one point, I was worried that we were going to be polled for our viewpoint, Theatre In Education-style.
But such a trite ending would have been beneath this show and its players.
The first half was led by the prosecution barrister, played with relish and many a sardonic eye roll by Amber Sinclair.
Her incredulity at the faith of others came across very well, matched by Arline Evenden’s defence barrister, leading the second half, who revelled in the majesty of the Easter story in a dignified and passionate performance.
It’s not for me to roll-call the entire cast, every audience member sees different highlights.
But in my case, there were a few standouts, in addition to Amber and Arline who had to carry the show on their backs.
I have never seen Trevor Cummings perform before, in fact, I understand this show is his debut.
But I hope to see much more of him because his performance as Saul, later Paul of Tarsus, was a true theatrical tour-de-force; passionate, powerful, emotive and never less than engaging.
Trevor is a parishioner at one of the show’s three host venues, St Peter and St Paul's Church, Gosberton; All Saints Church, Holbeach; St Mary and St Nicolas Church, Spalding.
The fact that he not only decided to get involved in this project but excelled in the way he did shows the true spirit of community theatre and what it can achieve.
Patsy Figg provided a nice touch of light relief as Lady Procula Claudia, wife of Pontius Pilate, mixing perfectly a socialite’s arrogance at being inconvenienced with the trial and the hint of wonder at the man she had encountered in Jesus.
Jess Forbes also impressed with her complex portrayal of the equally complex Mary Magdalene.
All of these were individual highlights, but there was no weak link amongst the cast.
It was also fun, as a regular follower of local theatre, to wonder who would be popping into the witness box next.
Martin Tyrrell’s direction was light in touch, something appropriate for both the production and the space of St Peter and St. Paul’s which was well-utilised.
I have always been a fan of site-specific theatre and this setting was ideal, but the real direction was evident in how well the actors knew their characters and inhabited them, proof that there was more going on in the rehearsal room than the ‘stand over there’ school of directing.
Special mention should be made too of Bev Paskell as mixing sound and running lights in a 14th century church is no easy task.
But the sound and lighting were ideal and blended seamlessly with the rest of the production.
Putting on a talky show in a village church on a cold Monday night isn't taking the easy route and St Nicolas Players certainly gave their audience opportunities to grumble - play was too long, pews were uncomfortable and church was too cold.
But I think any nay-sayers are missing the point as theatre should not always be comfortable.
It should challenge, it should stretch perceptions, it should make you think.
There is, of course, room in the world for cosy shows in a sumptuous theatre, but there is also a growing desire for something a little different as well.
Review by Karl Gernert