After winning the LOST Theatre’s One Act Festival in 2014, an expanded version of By Virtue Fall appears at The Space for an extremely limited run this week. While approaching a very interesting subject, the production itself feels limited; it is a play still in development, with minimal and simplistic stage design and lighting, and a fairly simplistic plot. However, writer Victoria Gimby has lighted upon a subject matter that our society is only just becoming able to approach, and it is greatly to be hoped that she will continue to expand the piece to really address it.
In the play, devout modern Catholic Matthew confesses to a young priest that he is sexually attracted to children. Having repressed and hidden his feelings all his adult life, the news that his wife is expecting a baby turns Matthew’s moral uncertainty into a clear and present danger, and he must reconcile the way that he is both with his family life and with God.
The writing is very human, and often beautiful, giving an interesting insight into modern religion without alienating the secular or demonising an unforgiving Church. The priest charged with advising Matthew is quickly out of his depth with his moral dilemma, representing the impotence of both the Church and also the wider world when faced with people who are born with feelings that are socially repellent.
Antonio Magro as Matthew is sympathetic, with moments of real wrenching, wretched truth. Sometimes self-conscious but often painfully believable, his faith and his self-loathing are mostly very convincing. Louise Wilcox’s light, sparkling Jenny is a lovely antithesis to Magro’s Matthew, but sometimes does not find the same commitment to the text, and although she handles Jenny’s frustration with Matthew’s patronising piety well, her eventual realisation about his secret does not seem to come at enough of a cost. Pearce Sampson is perfectly cast in his role as the nervous young priest, and although he often strays into ‘demonstrating’ his character’s discomfort through over-expression and jaw tension while trying to deal with Matthew, his utter failure to offer any help is affectingly painful.
The piece as a work in progress has great potential, with the beginnings of very interesting characters, an intelligent exploration of the difficulties of modern religious life and relationships, and a theme that is currently bubbling just below the surface of our social consciousness. More careful structuring, with attention to light and shade, would benefit both the writing and the direction; often the piece gives way to shouting and raised voices to convey emotion, where other routes could be more effective.
Potential new directions for the piece could include a closer, more fearless look at Matthew’s unacceptable feelings, greater expansion and integration of choreographer Leah George’s interesting and beautiful movement motif, greater character development for the priest and more detail in his relationship with Matthew, and an exploration of real life research into this phenomenon and the help available. We have reached an age of scientific maturity where we might soon address the subject of sexual deviance with impartial eyes, and pieces such as this will have an important role to play in our confrontation of the issue.
By Virtue Fall is playing at The Space until 2 May. For tickets and more information, see The Space website.