“I must learn to keep my mouth shut when there’s an angel in the room.” So says Lot in Howard Barker’s sexually-charged reimagining of the Old Testament tale of the last days of Sodom. To Lot’s anguish, the aforementioned angel – who has taken the name of Drogheda – has just rendered a rude waiter consecutively blind, dumb and deaf because Lot felt sorry for him. It’s not torture, though; Drogheda insists that it’s punishment for the filthy sins of the people of Sodom, the city from this angel has instructed Lot and his wife to leave…
this minimalist approach works wonders here, helping emphasise how, when so little of civilisation is left, there is still human language and argument.
Lot and his God is not an often-performed play – in part thanks to its frequently challenging theological, philosophical and sexual aspects – so it provides an excellent launchpad for the Citizens Theatre’s “Up Close” season commemorating – during the theatre’s own 70th anniversary celebrations – the 50th anniversary of its taboo-busting offshoot, the Close Theatre Club which (until the early 1970s) enabled the company to perform plays otherwise deemed unsuitable for the general public at the time.
While neither the first to appear nor speak – those accolades are given to the slovenly waiter (Ewan Somers), and the bullish Drogheda in his dusty, old long-tailed suit – the heart of Barker’s play is Sverdlovsk. We seldom if ever hear her name, though; even she accepts that her place and role in life is as “Lot’s Wife”. Pauline Knowles wonderfully exudes this cool and collected femme fatale who gets her kicks by challenging this particularly earthy angel, all the time in a tightly cut dress that’s just revealing enough to betray her black underwear. Little wonder then that Daniel Cahill’s Drogheda, glowering and moving with the muscular grace and brutal intent of a boxer, so quickly succumbs to her erotic charms. No wonder Lot himself – a lean, gad-fly Cliff Burnett providing a quite different style of explosive, contorted energy – builds himself up into a tizzy while imagining his wife’s liaison with an angel in his much-loved library.
This is by no means a naturalistic piece of theatre; the setting is fairly timeless, albeit with a deliberately faded 1930s’ Hollywood vibe. In the Citizens Theatre’s stripped back Circle studio space, director Debbie Hannan successfully creates a deliciously seedy cafe with little more than a few tables and chairs, strewn with near-dead flowers. Part of the challenge given to the directors in this Up Close season was to only use props, furnitures and costumes already within the Citizens Theatre’s stock – and in such a way that they could be subsequently recycled again afterwards. Financial restraints notwithstanding, this minimalist approach works wonders here, helping emphasise how, when so little of civilisation is left, there is still human language and argument. Which, not to give away any spoilers, can even leave God speechless.