In this one-man show, Christopher Peacock plays a man of the cloth struggling daily to overcome the temptations of the flesh. This is a strong performance of a well-written script tackling hefty issues. The agony of this constant battle is eloquently expressed in a poetic piece of writing and the production is slick: tightly directed and intimate.
There is another gear this production could reach, and it may be worth having an outside eye cast over it – a director who is not also the author, perhaps.
We meet the school chaplain in his drawing room, offering Hail Marys to The Blessed Virgin. An imagined visitor, Michael, arrives. In a one-sided exposition it becomes swiftly clear that the two are entangled sexually, and that the priest has resorted to self-flagellation to pay for his sins. In this post-Savile era I find myself speculating about whether Michael is a schoolboy, but it transpires that he’s one of the many rent boys the priest has been employing. After years of denial the man of god finally capitulated when turning forty. Then began the collapse of his faith. “What need did I have of faith when I had discovered the meaning of life? Joy! Paradise!”
The psychological torture when the sins of the flesh win over his celibate devotion to God are well expressed here. “If we find pleasure in men and give our body to them, then we have found God on earth, and we have no need of God in heaven.” The priest refers to Pascal’s wager: if you believe in God and you are wrong, you lose nothing. If you don’t believe in God and you’re wrong, you suffer eternal damnation. But Michael has challenged him, suggesting Pascal’s wager “points out not God’s existence, but man’s despair.” The priest, in terminal spiritual decline is “exhausted by a battle in which I am the only combatant”.
Peacock allows this piece to breathe. His delivery is measured, controlled. But it is hard to connect other than intellectually with this flawed character. His pain is understood but not really felt. There is another gear this production could reach, and it may be worth having an outside eye cast over it – a director who is not also the author, perhaps.
Nonetheless, this is a strong piece of theatre and well worth the mental energy required of the audience. It certainly reminds us how compelling one-person shows can be.