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Love The Sinner
Cottesloe Theatre Summer 2010

One can see in Love The Sinner the vague outline of the play Drew Pautz wanted to write, about how religious faith is hard and demanding, and not the cosy, comfortable thing the Church of England sometimes presents it as.

But he hasn't written it. Love The Sinner is a loose collection of sketches for scenes and sketches for characters, desperately searching for a core and continuity that just aren't there.

It begins promisingly, with a scene set at a Church conference in Africa. An African bishop objects to a mealy-mouthed liberal statement on homosexuality, and argues eloquently and well that the Church has to stand for something, to be a haven of consistency for its parishioners rather than trying to follow every social and moral fashion.

It's a good debate, but unfortunately it and most of the characters in the scene are immediately dropped. Instead, Pautz chooses to follow the least significant character in the scene, the lay worker Michael, and Joseph, the polite African waiter who delivered the coffee.

It turns out that Joseph moonlights as rent boy, and the second scene finds him post-coitally changing personality completely, to threaten and blackmail Michael into helping him get to England.

Absolutely nothing in this scene is believable, from the situation to either character's behaviour, and the playwright only gets out of it through the fortuitous entrance of the second-least significant character from the opening scene.

Back in England, Michael has problems with his wife, not over Africa, but over her ticking biological clock and the squirrels in the attic, and with the employees at his envelope-making plant, who are inexplicably upset over his plan to introduce a profitable sideline in church donation envelopes.

Oh, and somewhere between scenes Michael becomes a born-again Jesus freak. And then Joseph reappears, and suffice to say that just about nothing that happens afterwards is any more believable than what came before.

Pautz's attitude to his characters is unclear - is Joseph a villain or just doing what he has to to reach a better life? Is Michael undergoing a spiritual crisis or just a loony? Is the English bishop who reappears in a final scene a sincere pastoral shepherd or a platitude-mouthing fraud?

And it is striking that in a play that questions everyone's perceptions of God, there is no sense at all that He is out there in any form.

Jonathan Cullen as Michael and Fiston Barek as Joseph work desperately to make sense out of their characters, and fail honourably because they just haven't been given the material to work with.

Louis Mahoney is strong as the African bishop in the first scene, and Ian Redford as the kindly English bishop and Scott Handy as his hard-nosed secretary create a few moments of believability in the last scene.

Director Matthew Dunster is unable to make any two scenes seem to come out of the same play or any of the characters seem the same people from one scene to the next.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Love The Sinner - National Theatre 2010