The Believers

Theatre, Experimental
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksPenny Layden (Maud) and Richard Mylan (Ollie)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksEileen Walsh (Marianne) and Richard Mylan (Ollie)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksEileen Walsh (Marianne)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksPenny Layden (Maud) and Christopher Colquhoun (Joff)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksPenny Layden (Maud)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksRichard Mylan (Ollie) and Penny Layden (Maud)
 (© Helen Maybanks)
© Helen MaybanksRichard Mylan (Ollie)

Physical theatre troupe Frantic Assembly are, on the sly, one of the most influential names in the West End right now – their dynamic, stylised choreography drives the National Theatre’s smash ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, while departed co-founder Steven Hoggett is the man behind the movement in hits ‘Once’ and ‘Let the Right One In’.

Left to their own devices however, the Assembly get a bit weirder. Written by regular collaborator Bryony Lavery, their latest show, ‘The Believers’, is unsettling and deeply atmospheric, a fractured journey through modern anxieties that taps into fears raised by everything from the Madeleine McCann case to the flooding of the Somerset Levels and the debate over Britain as a Christian nation.

Joff (Christopher Colquhoun) and Marianne (Eileen Walsh) are a regular, slightly lairy, very sweary couple. Their neighbours Maud (Penny Layden) and Ollie (Richard Mylan) are a pleasant pair of Christians with excellent cooking skills. We first meet the couples screaming in the inky darkness after some awful but ambiguous incident involving their daughters. The play then zips back chronologically, showing Joff and Marianne being taken in by their neighbourly neighbours after their house is flooded. At dinner the couples get on terribly, while upstairs their daughters – who we never see – seem to be getting on.

Then it all gets very strange, as the couples get trashed and odd things happen in the dark. Are Maud and Ollie cultists? Swingers? What the hell is the deal with Joff and Marianne’s daughter Grace? These questions and more are posed by a fragmented barrage of shattered images and dimly-lit tableaux, framed by the spare, abstract scaffolding of Jon Bausor’s set.

Sometimes erotic, sometimes scary, always cryptic, it seems to be a piece about fear of the other – of faith, of children, of our neighbours. But director/choreographer Scott Graham’s production is more sensual than intellectual, defined by subtly stylised movement, Andy Purves’ choking light design and Carolyn Downing’s menacing score.

What it lacks is tangibility: there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors here, and it feels like only the excellent, amusing Eileen Walsh manages to take her character by the scruff of the neck and present us with someone three-dimensional. But as a haunting mood piece it’s pretty peerless.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


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