Penny Layden (Maud) and Richard Mylan (Ollie) in Frantic Assembly's The Believers
Penny Layden (Maud) and Richard Mylan (Ollie) in Frantic Assembly's The Believers
© Helen Maybanks

Frantic Assembly's The Believers, written by Bryony Lavery, tells the story of Marianne (Eileen Walsh) and Joff (Christopher Colquhoun) as they are given shelter for the night by their neighbours Ollie (Richard Mylan) and Maude (Penny Layden) after a near-apocalyptic bout of weather renders their home uninhabitable. The production starts by showing the end of the play: the loss of Marianne and Joff's child, Grace.

It begins with a bang (literally, several audience members screamed), and the initial impression of the production is a strong one. Jon Bausor's set has the house as a striking asymetrical playground with a neat, moveable climbing frame which does service as most of the rooms. Throughout, Andy Purves' lighting and Carolyn Downing's soundscapes serve the action well and complement the set.

After the bang, though, we are treated to something of a whimper, as the cast trawl through the the aftermath of the event at length. When the lights went down initially and the nightmare geometry of the set appeared I thought "Oh good, I'm going to be scared", but it never quite happens. With the reveal at the beginning, there is no tension in the outcome, merely in the drama of the relationships. However, the play seems to believe it retains this tension and indeed tries to ramp it up throughout. Sadly, this manifests itself in the script raising exposition to a ridiculous level.

Nothing is left to the imagination. What could have been a haunting and moving tale of loss without explanation is reduced to a whodunnit. The leaden dialogue also seems to encourage some rather heavy acting; the interactions between and within the couples never springs to life.

I rather loathed all of the characters, which may well have been the point, but some sympathy somewhere wouldn't go amiss. A storyline involving middle-class parents' guilt at a missing child after a party is a topical one, but is never really grasped. The religious/supernatural elements are overdone in terms of repetition and underdone in terms of impact. I didn't buy either the annoying spirituality of Ollie and Maude or the disparaging atheism of Marianne and Joff.

This is a production where all of the energy is provided by the lighting and sound; I wish the cast said a lot less and did a little more. There are nice moments of physical symmetry, but sadly these are few and far between. The play is visually impressive, but dramatically disappointing. Sometimes you need to show not tell.