Sinners – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
Produced by the Lyric Theatre
Written by Marie Jones
Until 03 June
When Moliere`s satirical masterpiece, Tartuffe, was premiered at the Palace of Versailles, critics were appalled by his depiction of religious hypocrisy and blind faith and the play was subsequently banned. Now Marie Jones, inspired by this 17th century work has reset the action to rural Ulster, where Pastor Walter O’Hare, a Billy Graham style con man from the States is targeting Stanley Simpson for his soul, his family and his land on the Lyric stage.
The transposing from 17th century France to present day Northern Ireland has the potential to work well. Themes of religion, land and inheritance are still ingrained in the local psyche and Sinners has all the ingredients to be a biting satire on fervent religious piety framed within Jones’ well-loved sharply observed humour.
It’s a shame then that this production, directed by Mick Gordon, doesn’t seem sure of what it wants to be. Farce is favoured over satire and Sinners often falls into pantomime territory with overblown performances, thin characterization and a series of sexual escapades that may have been scandalous in Moliere’s time, but sound an uncomfortable note today.
Michael Condron as Pastor O’Hare has a great time with his part, channeling his inner Elvis impersonator as he struts around the Lyric stage in his shades and sharp suit, charming everyone from the audience to the stage hands. However, he lacks that sense of danger necessary for the audience to feel any dramatic anxiety.
Charlie Bonner and Alan McKee bring some sensitivity to their roles as brothers Stanley and Sidney and there is some strong talent on the stage, but the majority of the actors deliver their lines at a shout from the beginning, leaving scant room for subtlety or growth. The cast itself could be cut by at least four with little impact on the action, as some characters are mere vehicles to move the plot forward.
Alyson Cummin’s set is clever and striking, dominated by a circular curtain echoing the tent mission of Pastor O’Hare, which peels back to reveal the domestic life that is under threat. A gospel choir is projected for the musical numbers and the fourth wall is broken as the Pastor asks the lighting crew for his special effects which emphasises the idea of preacher as performer.
There are, as you would expect from Marie Jones, some great one-liners and funny moments, including an excruciating dinner party and a running joke about a rooster, but the play, while a comedy, in order to work, needs to be a comedy where something serious is at stake. The deus ex machina ending originated by Moliere could not be replicated here, and Jones gets around this well with a twist of her own, but the inevitable happy ending has been expected from the start.
Sinners is a diverting evening of theatre, but in some ways it misses a trick by not highlighting the relevance of the destructiveness of blind faith.