THE much-loved Tricycle Theatre, in north London, has had a £7-million redevelopment and has reopened with a new name. The Kiln Theatre now has a beautiful and comfortable auditorium and a welcoming foyer, without losing any of its old charm.
For the past decade, it has had a reputation for addressing the most relevant political issues of the day in a raw and challenging way. So what subject has been chosen for the play that begins this new phase of its history? The admission policies of Church of England primary schools. Well, there’s a surprise!
Equally surprising is the fact that it is one of the funniest new plays currently running. Most of the jokes in Alexis Zegerman’s Holy Sh!t nail suburban hypocrisy. (Before I, too, get accused of hypocrisy, I should point out that the exclamation mark is in the title, not an attempt to avoid offence.)
As the play reaches its climax, the laughs get more painful, and are then replaced by bitter revelations of the racism and anti-Semitism suppressed behind middle-class respectability.
Simone and Sam are secular Jews. Sam is dogmatically atheist; Simone less so. They are considering going to church with the object of gaining a place for their four-year-old daughter in its outstanding school. Their closest friends, Nick and Juliet, are longstanding churchgoers and react with shock. Their daughter is in competition for the same school place.
But, the following Sunday, Simone is singing “O Jesus, I have promised to serve you to the end” with a relish that infuriates Juliet and seems to discredit her genuine beliefs: “In this awful, awful world I have to have faith. It means something to me.” Unusually for a drama of this kind, Alexis Zegerman has created a credible Christian couple and a description of faith which doesn’t make a churchgoer cringe.
The director Indhu Rubasingham beautifully paces the production as a slur by one couple’s child against the other’s upsets the parents’ friendship and eventually allows it to disintegrate into a lacerating row. Appalling prejudices are loosed — against mixed-race marriages (such as Nick and Juliet’s), against the working classes, and against Jews.
Dorothea Myer-Bennett is superb as Simone, hovering on the edge of tears, and then acerbically hilarious. Claire Goose as sceptical Juliet and Daniel Lapaine as hypocritical Sam (“Religion is the biggest fraud any human being ever committed —religion and bitcoin”) are equally compelling. But it is Daon Broni as Nick who takes us to the play’s uncomfortable heart.
His longing for integrity has been shaped by the compromises his Christian grandmother had to make in Nigeria out of love for his Igbo grandfather. He bewails the recalibration that he has had to make again and again to meet what society, “obsessed by difference”, requires of him. What hope is there for our children if their parents abandon their principles to win them a future?
Holy Sh!t continues at the Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6, until 6 October. Tickets from kilntheatre.com, or phone 020 7328 1000.