In a dilapidated churchyard in Peckham a young Eastern European immigrant is speaking to the vicar about the impact of religion on his life. As a boy, his prayer for a bike leads the priest to tell him that he cannot pray for material things. When he explains that he rode up to the church the next day upon a brand new bike, the vicar interrupts him. "So your prayer for a bike was answered," she exclaims hopefully. "No," the man tells her. He stole the bike. He had come to church to pray for forgiveness.
This short exchange, beautifully conveyed by Peter Clements as the immigrant Bucholz and Grace Edwards as naive vicar Stella, perfectly captures not only the humour and authenticity of Nicola Baldwin's All Saints but crucially this sense of the church's inability to meet the needs of ordinary people. In light of the news that the Church of England hopes to force the money lending firm Wonga out of business, Baldwin calls instead for the church to look within itself for change in order to help people deal with the harsh realities of the modern world.
Without this change, it appears that amongst a series of wonderfully written and realised displaced characters, the church is ultimately the most displaced of them all. It is only when Stella begins to compromise not only the rules of her church but the rules of her country that she truly begins to experience touching people's lives. The consequences of this are both terribly funny and terribly frightening and ultimately call into question these institutions' ability to judge right from wrong in a world of blurred lines twisted moralities. Highlighting issues such as homosexuality only reinforces this idea of a need to relax and compromise these judgements to enable people to live in a happier, more tolerant world.
Unfolding within its intimate setting at the King's Head Theatre, All Saints is an absolute triumph for its cast and crew. Each character is enriched with such tenderness and warmth that is impossible to derive a stand-out from an evening of fantastic performances and writing. Director Helen Sheals expertly drives the shifts between comedy and drama and we ultimately learn that, just as with religious experiences, theatre too can uplift us.