The Pleasance Theatre is a place of reminiscence and tummy-bubbling excitement for me. Tucked away in a cobbled mews in Islington, flashing yellow in the murky grey reminds me of one thing: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That excitement doesn’t stem solely from the fact that I wait all year for August to come back so I can go back to the Festival, but also because this Islington branch promises to match all that the Fringe stands for. A platform for emerging theatre of indiscriminate variety: new, experimental and in-your-face. With that expectation in mind, it’s difficult to see how Inigo fits in. An historical, sixteenth century tale, surrounding an outdated, religious concept – all well and good, so long as it’s presented newly. Yet there is nothing exciting or intriguing about what’s being shown.
Inigo tells of the journey of Inigo Layola (Fayez Backhsh), founder of the Jesuits, as he struggles through his transition from minor, jack-the-lad gentry to a saint. It’s a journey that takes his entire adult lifetime in a play that seemed to take quite a chunk of mine. It’s difficult to invest wholly in the holy, and Inigo hinges on a necessity to understand that level of spirituality and dedication to faith. The saving grace of the subject matter is that we can all aspire to hold such cast-iron belief (of any kind), to the extent that we would hold onto it tightly against a bombardment of adversity and see it right the way through our lifetime. There is a relationship between Inigo’s story and the perpetually reappearing sense of oppression in social austerity. Every time that this ugly head is reared, it brings with it a kind of anarchy within us individuals – a lack of direction or powerlessness, so a tale like Inigo’s is refreshing. It shows us the power of just believing in something, strongly enough to let it carry you through.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough belief in Backhsh’s characterisation. Inigo undergoes a huge and prolonged change, but Backhsh doesn’t change at all; he remains one-dimensional throughout. There are two or three nuanced moments of emotion but nowhere near enough. The real show-stealer is Charlie Archer’s performance. Archer is pretty well solely responsible for the humour and his multiple roles are definable and intricately delivered. He is witty and charismatic across varying levels and with varying tones. The other highlight comes in the form of the sixteenth century costumes, which are beautiful and authentic.
In fact, the whole of Inigo is authentic – it just goes around the houses in showing it. The company cover a lot of ground without honing in on any of it.
Inigo is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 13 June. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website. Photo by Laura Cordery.