Secrets from the Long Grass
The church, passion, art, friendship and religion are inextricably bound together in this new and interesting play written by Dean Stalham.
Father Michael (Martin Head) is dying and is anxious to restore his church's dilapidated ceiling to it's former glory, and secure for himself some kind of legacy. So he's arranged for artist Vincenzo Cardosi to undertake the restoration. But Cardosi is not just any restorer, he's the childhood friend of another priest at the church, Father Paulo (played by Jonathan de Mallet Morgan). Father Paulo is ambitious to move up in the church hierarchy with his sights firmly set on Rome. On becoming a priest, he left behind his childhood friend, Vincenzo, and the two have not met or spoken since. In the intervening years, Vincenzo has married Angelina (Nicola Stuart-Hill) who, we learn later, was Paulo's first lover. As Vincenzo arrives at the church to start his restoration, he's also seeking answers to questions which have plagued him for years.
An impressive ensemble cast, well-directed by Kate Bannister, bring this intimate drama vividly to life. David Swain's Vincenzo is energetically passionate and jealous. Martin Head makes Father Michael's physical suffering tangibly real, and Jonathan de Mallet Morgan is the fresh-faced, ambitious Paulo who eventually has to act as mediator in order to effect resolution. And Nicola Stuart-Hill is the vivacious and sensual Angelina who hasn't seen her husband for more than a year, and finds herself torn in two directions when she is reunited with her former lover.
David Shields' design makes the most of the limited space, providing a compact setting that amply suggests the church interior with simple columns and a large central crucifix. There's good use of music, and the play is well-paced and just about the right length. There are well-devised and effective transitions between scenes as the actors rearrange the props, but remain in character.
I don't think 'Secrets from the Long Grass' has much to say which is unique or particularly profound, but the interaction between the characters is intriguing enough on its own account to make for interesting drama. However, the play can be read, I think, on several levels. First, there's the literal storyline which reveals the relationships between the characters. Viewed from that perspective, the basic message is that, like restoring the ceiling, you have to scape away layers of guilt, lies, deceit and half-truths in order that ghosts can be exorcised and motives understood to enable people to move on in their lives. But on another level lurks a figurative or metaphorical interpretation where each of the characters symbolise concepts such as religion, art, romantic love and friendship which are interrelated and dependent.
I was expecting the outcome to be rather more shocking, more violent or more surprising than it actually turned out to be. Nevertheless, 'Secrets from the Long Grass' is a thoughtful and well-acted drama which is well-worth a visit.