Arthur, a doctor sheltering in a besieged city, wants to do ‘something useful...knowing your moment counts.’ While Anna and Alex, representative of the two warring factions of ‘In The Trenches’, are certainly concerned with counting, they’re less keen on being useful. Natalie Audley’s playwriting debut weaves all three characters together in a spare, claustrophobic set, where words impact like bullets. Timothy Bond sinks down into his role as entitled, arrogant Alex, making like Made in Chelsea baddie Spencer with menacing smirks and sneers. The play’s moral core, Arthur (Peter Strong), tries and visibly struggles between the pull of his past and the relative security of his future. With the addition of Anna, the combination turns combustible, where lies, coercions and dashed hopes hinder everyone from making easy exits.
‘In The Trenches’ seems to suggest that perhaps all we really want is what’s best for ourselves – looking out for number one is only thing that will save us in the end. ‘Paradise’, the second of Audley’s plays, doesn’t stray far from this theme. When God and the Devil get together for their once-a-century Geneva convention, it can be hard to find a room to fit their egos. What begins as a world-shattering tête à tête ends up looking like petty parents warring over their children in mediation – and when mummy and daddy argue, the ones who truly suffer are the kids (in this case, Adam’s great x100 grandson, a soppy kitchen porter named Greg.) Standard religious arguments are totted out to humorous effect (‘You kicked me out of Heaven!’ ‘But, you never called!’) and I’m slightly conflicted about the part where the Lu, played masterfully by Neil Turk, accuses GiGi (a playful, yet strong Sascha Cooper) of being frigid. Is that why God’s so cranky and judgemental? She’s not getting enough action? You shouldn’t be too surprised at whose argument wins Greg over after a half hour of childish bickering.
Overall this is a solid production, able to rely on little to carry the spectacular unexpectedness of Audley’s writing. With several standout performances, The Great I Am is definitely worth a watch for the new talent on display – not only onstage, but off the page.