*** DEBUG END ***

Walking away from religion

31 May 2013

Peter Graystone sees an unbelievable twist on a familiar problem

ABOUT halfway through Sarah Page's début play, Pilgrims, there is a superb scene in which three likeable teenagers discuss why church plays no meaningful part in their lives. It is all about sex and absent fathers - no surprise there. But the dialogue is sharp and witty, and when one of them says, "Our father is gone," neither the audience not the characters are sure whether it is an earthly or heavenly father whose loss they feel.

Beth (beautifully played by Stephanie Hyam) is faking illness so that she doesn't have to go with her mother to the mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Hyde Park. Her boyfriend, Jay (Dinarte Gouveia), has a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, but has rejected religion altogether. He is taken by surprise that she is a Roman Catholic, because nothing that Beth says or does at school reveals any trace of her spirituality. But it isn't that she has hidden her faith at school: she has hidden her lack of faith at church.

Meanwhile, her brother, Will (a third excellent performance), is trying to keep panic attacks at bay through obsessive repetition. Going to church seems to have no impact on his everyday behaviour. It is the atheist, Jay, who has the most integrity of the three, and he challenges Beth to work out what she believes, instead of marking time until she can walk away and pay no heed to such a boring subject again. Doesn't she believe that the family will all be together in the afterlife? "I've had enough of us all being together in this life."

Unfortunately, around this crackling scene are 60 minutes of overwrought ranting and dramatic contrivance. The unsympathetic mother, attempting to nag her children into the Kingdom of God, is completely unbelievable as a Christian. And the vitriolic grandfather is unbelievable as a human of any kind. The surprise that he springs late in the play leads to the mother's breakdown. We are supposed to find her perverted religious tirade sacrilegious, but in fact it is just embarrassing. The director, Kevin Williams, seems aware of this, because he drowns it in blasts of rock music which emerge from nowhere.

The London stage has an unusually large number of plays about religion this year. In Disgraced, at the Bush Theatre, a New York lawyer who has suppressed his Islamic inheritance takes on a case that forces raw faith to crack the veneer. At the Prince of Wales Theatre, The Book of Mormon ( Arts, 12 April) lets the sect condemn itself in a preposterous, musical outrage. Pilgrims will be recognisable to every parent who has tried to coax an adolescent out of bed and into church. But it is the Muslims who brilliantly nail the urgent issues of present-day faith, and the Mormons who have the most fun.

Pilgrims runs at The Etcetera Theatre, above The Oxford Arms, Camden High Street, London NW1, until 9 June. Phone 020 7482 4857. www.etceteratheatre.com

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)