The team behind the Fringe First winning
The Christians is an unassuming work of very high quality.
The Christians welcomes you into its church, where Pastor Paul (William Gaminara) addresses his congregation with a 'radical change' for the direction of their faith, threatening to split the local community in his attempt to further their spiritual development. It's a fiercely intelligent script that treats all its characters with firm respect; a weaker playwright could easily have made this a black-and-white battle between conservative and extremist principles, whereas the line drawn in this debate is far more nuanced. The real battle is internal, in how each believer must choose their own path.
The plot itself is a slow-burner, feeling no need to build to a particular dramatic climax; the consequences of the play's opening incident complicate and develop naturally as time goes on, building in depth and understanding, simply letting the tragedy expand to its conclusion. The overall message is unclear but, like the smartest of literature, its only aim is to make you think.
Its commitment to authenticity, too, is a major strength. The full-scale community choir fills near two-thirds of the stage space, mirroring the rising stalls of the audience and implicating each theatregoer as part of the congregation. Investing in the story is easy from the start, while Pastor Paul's brief asides of "he said" and "she told me" provide him with a creeping awareness of his own tragedy. Gaminara can hold a silence like few others, and he crumbles with an astonishing classical dignity. Grounded's Lucy Ellinson also shines as an anxious mother looking for answers, and the central acting performances are all committed and uncompromising.
The entirety of the staging is quietly simple, yet fiercely particular. And the limited use of projection is so subtle that it's easy to overlook, seamlessly incorporating these multimedia aspects for maximum effect. The use of standing microphones, too, enables the to-and-fro debate between opposing characters, but these dignified positions soon become a sign of disconnect between friends and families. They are only able to communicate from different sides of the stage, forced to preach at each other, too far apart in their beliefs to truly be close again. Expertly crafted, told, and performed, The Christians is an unassuming work of very high quality.