By Lori Leigh
Directed by Fiona McNamara
BATS Theatre (Out of Site), Wellington | June 4-14
Revelations, a new play by Lori Leigh, directed by Fiona McNamara, is a witty and moving glimpse into the lives of the Baker family, who have all returned home to Feilding in light of their matriarch’s belief that she has been told of the imminent Rapture.
The play is aptly titled. While the sense of impending doom is omnipotent throughout the play as a dominating theme, Leigh provides us with wonderfully scripted characters who each have ‘Revelations’ of their own. The ‘Rapture’—and the play itself—does not build to a singular climax or a single point of awakening and deliverance. Rather, it is a series of ‘little raptures’ told through a dynamic blend of the realist colloquialisms, and poetic, surrealist lyricism.
Throughout the play’s 90 minutes each character seeks their own individual salvation from the chaos of their current circumstances. Claire (Emma Kinane) is the overbearing psychiatrist mother of Lisa and Lacy (Brynley Stent and Freya Sadgrove), who strains to come to terms with her divorce, and keep the peace amongst her bickering family as she waits for her “session with Jesus”; the rebellious, stubborn Lisa, who believes her salvation lies far away from this “armpit” of a town and is saving money by selling the drugs she steals from her mother’s stores; Lisa, whose marriage to Ted (Hayden Frost)—who is on suicide watch after trying to sell his soul on Trademe—has reached breaking point; and Margie (Isobel Mebus), the lesbian university professor who has returned from overseas after years of absence. I cannot fault the acting at all. Each performer gave an honest, energised, multi-dimensional rendering of their well-crafted characters, and their strong sense of ensemble lends itself well to establishing the sense of family that is at the epicentre of the play.
The brilliant soundscape (designed by Oliver Devlin) intensifies the sense of impending doom. We hear Nana sawing and hammering some mysterious contraption out in the garden shed, whilst the tolling of an old bell heralds each characters’ entrance into the house, as if—by returning home and facing the chaotic hell that is their family gathering—they face their Last Judgement.
Debbie Fish’s set design invites us into the humble living room of a small house in Feilding, “New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Town.” Complete with a tired (perfectly hideous) rug and musty old couch, the space doubles as the arena in which the five characters battle and bicker on both divine and domestic levels. “God: unseen guest, silent listener” is the mantra of the homely cross-stitch hung on the deliciously garish 1970s wallpaper, whilst evidence of Nana’s Dooms Day preparations (blankets, cans of food, bottles of water) occupy the hallway entrance, further reminding us of the looming ‘end’. Fish’s set is enhanced further by Uther Dean’s lighting design, which despite being a little too dark in places, successfully supported the shifts between the internal and external worlds of the characters required by Leigh’s script.
As McNamara states in the programme notes, “It’s surprisingly rare to find a play with five strong female characters… and yet the experiences of mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters and wives are important to tell.” I could not agree more, and would add to this by saying that it is equally refreshing to see a play in which the female characters are active within their various narratives, rather than being merely reactive to the events occurring around them. For this reason (among many others) I feel that Leigh’s latest play is set to be an important addition to the New Zealand theatre canon.
While Revelations is a play in which Christianity is a central theme, it is most certainly not a play that seeks to preach, convert, or condemn. Rather, it is a play about family; about coming home, coming together, and facing the end of life as you know it. It is a play about how salvation can be found either in divine prophecy, or in the act of consuming a ‘special’ Devil’s Foodcake. Revelations is a thoroughly engaging, highly professional piece of theatre which won’t leave you wanting for anything… except perhaps a slice of cake.