(Ab)solution is the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe Play from Swindon-based Jackrill Productions, and it’s an impressive debut at Greenside, Infirmary St. The simplicity of this play’s tight structure, with recurring scenes and patterns of behaviour, contrasts with the complex web of relationships that develops between three brothers and a woman.
A challenging and thought-provoking whodunnit.
In turn each of these characters goes to confession on several occasions. There they relate the sins they have committed to the priest (Stu Jackson). Although a married man with two children and a third on the way, Michael (Steve Cowley) is a sex addict who has paid for women for most of his adult life. Alec (Max Hallam) is insecure, shy and uncertain about his sexuality. Ryan (Ryan Gilks) is a drug using rebel with anger management issues. Fiona (Hollie Wade) is the first to seek absolution, and opens the play seated next to the priest. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” she says. In the eyes of the Church she certainly has, but she has also been grievously sinned against by each of the brothers.
Ackrill notes that her aim was not to write ‘about people following a religion, but about their search for love from a higher power when it does not exist in ordinary life’. Overtly, it is the faith to which they nominally adhere that generates their self-loathing. Yet even without that, these are flawed individuals who have never found fulfillment - and the methods they seek to achieve it are doomed to failure and further frustration. The cast successfully embody the emotional extremes of the characters and there are many intense exchanges between them. It is only the priest who remains calm throughout.
Helen Ackrill’s script explores how secrets and lies can wreck families whilst guilt and blame destroys individuals. It uses flashbacks to relate the troubled lives of the family and their encounters with Fiona. The number of scenes is excessive, and the repeated moving back and forth becomes somewhat wearing and formulaic. However, the mystery embedded in the story gradually unfolds into a challenging and thought-provoking whodunnit.