The Promised Land

Rhiannon Brace’s autobiographical play The Promised Land gives us the best of two dramatic worlds – the ring of authenticity and a pleasing narrative arc (not always present in autobiographical work). Her website states that she 'creates performance from a female perspective' that is 'often rooted in personal experience and events'.

The best of two dramatic worlds.

Here we are drawn into Brace’s childhood experience of the Worldwide Church of God, a conservative and fundamentalist Christian organisation with a head office in the USA. The end of the world is nigh, and this inevitably has repercussions – what is the point of making long term plans? Why go to school when we’re all about to be consumed in a lake of fire? (except for the faithful, of course, who will enter the Promised Land). Ultimately, though, how many years can you wait for the imminent end of the world?

Brace’s evangelical father (played with benign menace by Scott Swinton) tells us, as members of the congregation, 'Satan is not neglecting your children!', and every aspect of life has to be policed to keep the faithful and their vulnerable offspring safe - television and pop music are full of invitations into an almost universally sinful world. In terms of UK television, only Blue Peter gets an enthusiastic thumbs up. All else has dangerous content lurking like deadly rocks below the surface, ready to wreck all good intentions.

The only problem is that Brace is not faithful, she is indomitably guileless and with an innocence that becomes increasingly fragile as time passes. She is a musician who cannot understand why music can be sinful; a dancer who can only see beauty, and not Satan, in the ballet that she is learning and which ultimately becomes forbidden.

The perspective of personal experience makes this a tender piece of theatre rather than a cult-bashing diatribe, although the toxic nature of this kind of rule bound religious community is clear throughout. Being told that she will need to be subservient and obedient to her future husband leaves Brace bemused rather than angry and this is perhaps a key point: in the sheltered world of her community such statements are perfectly normal, even though it is the 1990s. In Rhiannon’s case, independent spirit (which, we are reminded, comes solely from Satan) remains subdued but it is still very much alive. Poignantly, we find that this remains the case despite much effort to subdue it. A tale of female resilience and survival, this is a testament to one woman’s authenticity and tenacity in a world that demands subjugation and threatens ‘disfellowship’ at every turn.

Reviews by Sebastian Beaumont

The Warren: Theatre Box

The Promised Land

★★★★
Brighton Spiegeltent: Bosco

Jack Cray: The Fittest Guy on the Street

★★★
Rialto Theatre

FREAK

★★★★

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Performances

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The Blurb

Rhiannon is 13, fears being possessed by the devil and has a recurring dream about the end of the world. She is not like her classmates; she doesn't go to parties, there's no pop music or make-up or Christmas trees in her world. She can recite the Bible, the Ten Commandments and the twelve sons of Jacob. Despite her fears, she is beginning to find her voice and her own identity and secretly loves peering at the twinkly Christmas lights in wintery windows.

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