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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Cottesloe Theatre      Winter 2005-2006

Howard Brenton's new play about the Apostle is a model example of the theatre of putting-faces-to-history, giving a sense of who the near-mythic figures might have been and how things might have happened.

That may be more than enough to make it worth seeing, even if it remains too much an intellectual exercise, too infrequently touching the emotions.

Opening with Paul in a Roman prison awaiting execution, the play is built on a number of slightly awkward flashbacks, as the Apostle remembers his conversion on the road to Damascus, his conflicts with the Jerusalem-based church of the original Disciples, the successes and failures of his ministry, and some revelations that call it all into question.

Brenton posits a DaVinci Code-type theory that both the Resurrection and the Damascus Road revelation may have been faked, and then decides that any question of historical fact is irrelevant, since the power of Paul's faith and of his personality is what really created Christianity.

Much of this is fairly old news, though well dramatised, with few in any of the modern Christian churches denying that there is a gap between Jesus' teachings and Paul's, that there was infighting in the early church, or that it was Paul's ministry to the gentiles that got the fledgeling religion going.

Even Brenton's assertion that Paul's conversion may have been based on trickery and that he completely misunderstood the religion he was converting to - he misreads Jesus' references to the Kingdom of God to mean an any-minute-now end of the world - is not especially radical.

And Brenton gives Paul his due, not just as an effective proselytiser, but for making important additions to the religion, notably in the centrality of Christian love.

Moreover, Brenton the avowed nonbeliever acknowledges the power of belief when he shows the new religion being built entirely on the strength of one man's faith.

And yet little of this really comes alive. Adam Godley came into the role of Paul late, when another actor had to drop out, and he lacks the energy and animal power the play demands.

Again and again doubters and waverers have to be won over by Paul's own absolute conviction, and we have to feel its force as well for the play to work, and we too rarely do.

Lloyd Owen as Peter, Paul Higgins as James and Kellie Bright as Mary Magdalene offer a believable sense of what the real-life figures might have been like, though Pearce Quigley is too saccharine as Jesus (and is bearded to look too disconcertingly like Charles Manson).

Howard Davies directs with an emphasis on gritty realism that makes it a little too difficult for the play to rise to the consideration of faith and belief.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Paul - National Theatre 2005

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