A religious comedy seems a befitting choice for a country renowned for its own religious segregations, but although this version of Marie Jones’ brand new comedy is set in Northern Ireland, with strong local accents and some fab acting (as well as a few panto-like characters thrown in), the story could really have taken place anywhere. In this very funny play, Jones - who wrote Stones in His Pockets and A Night in November, among others - tells the story of a small town that comes under the spell of a charismatic con man guised as an American preacher.
The play reminds me of (and was apparently also inspired by) Moliere’s satirical play, Tartuffe, which ridiculed religious hypocrisy. When this was originally premiered at the Palace of Versailles, it was quickly banned as viewers shuddered behind the startling, dark humour of the play. But here, although the humour is at times close to the bone, it is not ban-worthy, even for the local zealots.
The play begins with Pastor O’Hare (played brilliantly by Michael Condron) entering the stage, illuminated by the brightly lit curtain behind him. Immediately he captivates the audience with his flamboyant American façade, tailored suit and mesmerising smile; [and on that note, Michael he told me his gleaming teeth are naturally that shiny, I asked him in the bar afterwards!] It is not long before Pastor O’Hare unleashes these weapons on the vulnerable small town which immediately falls under his spell, moulding the congregation (bar the cynics in one family) like putty in his hands.
One of his captives is the unassuming Stanley Simpson (Charlie Bonner), a local farmer who eagerly agrees for O’Hare’s mission tent to be unveiled on his land – complete with gospel choir. As O’Hare’s unorthodox and electric sermons see the gullible town empty their pockets, Stanley's increasing obsession with the pastor sees him pitted against his family, who view the Pastor’s invasion (and their father/brother/husband’s obsession) as a threat to their inheritance.
The super-talented Seáinín Brennan plays Sidney’s wife Tania, who is not convinced of the eccentric pastor’s righteous intentions and, in a hilarious show of strength, leads the Simpson family as they fight to take back what is rightfully theirs.
Alyson Cummins’ simple yet striking set hypnotises the audience with its effective lighting and clever design, including pretty modern projection techniques, as the intrusive mission tent takes centre stage. Behind the tent, the engrossed audience catches a glimpse of the domestic life that is under threat by the Pastor’s impromptu arrival.
Director Mick Gordan and producer Jimmy Fay successfully anchor the play to what it is – an entertaining satire that gives viewers a deep belly laugh whilst simultaneously raising a few eyebrows.
The superbly cast cast portray their characters flawlessly and their perfectly timed one-liners, actions and expressions exude the relevant response from charmed audience. Christina Nelson is at first completely unrecognisable in her gullible male role, and hats off to Roma Tomelty, Alan McKee and Louise Matthews for delivering some of the best lines.
The play is ultimately about materialism and blind faith with an underlying warning to viewers. Full of unexpected twists and turns, ‘Sinners’ is a guaranteed evening of easy-viewing, great theatre.
The play continues until 3rd June 2017. To book: https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/sinners/
My Verdict 8.5/10