Sweet finish this year’s well-curated Brighton HorrorFest with the interesting Father of Lies, written and originally performed by Sasha Roberts and Tom Worsley. Here, Stephen Griffin and Nathan Jones take the stage as presenters of this piece of ‘true crime’ documentary theatre which tells the strange story of Anselm Neumann, a German priest who purportedly resorted to murder in mysterious circumstances in 1973.
Anselm’s descent shows us that hell is not a place, but a mental state.
Opening the show in light-hearted fashion, Stephen and Nathan initially ask the audience if they believe in God, or the Devil; in heaven or hell; they ask if anybody believes in witches. Tonight, the person next to me confessed that her father was a witch, neither black not white, ‘because you need a balance’. I’m fairly sure she was not a plant, but as luck would have it, this remark sums up the movement of the show’s argument rather nicely. Stephen says he believes in God, Nathan says he is an atheist; Stephen says he wants definitive answers, but Nathan prefers ambiguity, or more precisely, indeterminacy. From the get-go we are invited to decide the truth of the matter for ourselves and, per se, this will be coloured by our own world view.
And so to the show itself, which consists of a quasi-lecture from the two hosts concerning the background and circumstances of this bizarre unsolved ‘true crime’. In true Piscatorian style, an old-tech carousel slide-projector provides the documentary evidence of maps, letters and photographs to support the truth claim as Jones and Griffin talk us through the migration of the mysterious Jewish apostate Abigail from Israel to Würzburg, where she meets her future husband Anselm, the local priest. The lecture mode is interspersed with re-enactments of key scenes from the story between the increasingly unhinged Anselm (Jones) and his long-suffering friend Kurt (Griffin).
Despite missing the emotional mark on occasion during these re-enactments, the actors still succeed in drawing us into this intriguing story. After Abigail’s grizzly death in childbirth, Anselm loses his faith. Anselm’s descent shows us that hell is not a place, but a mental state. His premature son dies in hospital, but then miraculously recovers. Anselm begins to see the ghost of Abigail and other supernatural phenomena and thus regains his faith. Faith as psychosis, then? You can decide for yourself.