I had the great pleasure of attending the second run of this 'little gem' of a play in London's Pleasance Theatre this week. It is still running for another week and I would warmly commend it to anyone who can reach London. I attach the review below:
By Jonathan Moore
Pleasance Theatre, London
The life and struggles of St Ignatius Loyola – muscular Christian and all-round poster-boy for the Counter Reformation – do not immediately suggest themselves as a fit subject for a contemporary art-house play. Especially if the playwright is Jonathan Moore – radical director of great opera
premieres such as Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek and
one-time collaborator with Joe Strummer of The Clash (younger readers please refer to Google...). Yet here it is, played out in the Pleasance theatre a step away from the hipsterism and designer beer of the Caledonian Road. We walk into the theatre from all this activity outside to suddenly find ourselves immersed in the power politics and theological controversies of early 16th Century Spain. Such a terse and multi-layered piece, given over to much theological and philosophical discussion, is enriched by the skill of the actors here performing it. They have been chosen well – a troupe of mainly young RADA graduates and seasoned professionals radiating all the energy, struggle and drama of this crucial turning point of European history as played out in the life of our eponymous hero (‘Inigo’ being the original Basque name of the saint who would later assume the title of ‘Master Ignatius’ after his studies in Paris). First amongst equals is Fayez Bakhsh (his first role after graduating from drama school) whose Inigo occupies a space of quiet intensity as if lit from behind – here surely is a great future actor in the making. Portraying the conversion of a libertine to a saint is no mean feat but I think Bakhsh pulls it off. Also worth mentioning are Reggie Oliver as the suave and sophisticated Figuero who turns, St Paul like, from persecutor of Ignatius to one of his strongest advocates and Paul Storrier, camping it up as a somewhat cartoonish Gian Carafa (later to become Pope Paul IV – the Pope who famously put the fig-leaves on Michelangelo’s work). Moore’s writing is at times expressive and lyrical alternating with the demotic life of 16th Century Spain. The former is revealed in the subtle allegories and symbolism of the piece – not least the heavy anvil blows that punctuate the piece and recall the spectator’s attention to the central insistent hammering of Inigo’s drive. The latter is translated easily to the street language of Moore’s native London and the early fights, skirmishes and womanising appears uncannily like the London streets we have travelled through to get to the theatre. However, juxtaposed with these scenes are ones of quiet intensity where the struggles of the young spiritual seeker are movingly portrayed. In an age and society obsessed with ‘radicalisation’ and general fear of faith I am not sure what contemporary audiences will make of all this. We were a small but dedicated group (if somewhat eclectic) and I wonder whether our wider cultural amnesia regarding faith will prevent this piece becoming the critical success it deserves. Yet, with love and careful acting it is clearly a fine piece with some moving writing. I can see it as something young groups of people, especially in schools and colleges, could seize upon as an entirely workable drama production with a thinking reflection on the nature of faith. I cannot see it becoming the basis of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Reading the full text after the performance I noticed that a number of stage directions and cuts were made (this is its second outing, initially staged at the Bear Theatre in London) – most pertinently the removal of the character of the young Inigo. It will be interesting to see what future directors make of this and hope we can look forward to a long and varied history of interpretation of this fascinating piece.