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Assumption (Mercury Theatre, Colchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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You could say that Dee Evans’ production – designed by Sara Perks – of Simon Turley’s play Assumption is a case of fitting a softly rounded peg into a distinctly rectangular hole. Evans has directed this play before (in 1996) and casts it this time with only five adult actresses, one of whom also plays a man.

The title can, of course, be taken in more than one way. We’re in an Irish coastal village in the 1990s. It’s a small, very close-knit community with the church its dominating influence. It’s also a community in which people are quick to leap to (sometimes erroneous) conclusions. Assumption is therefore both a theological and social concept.

From the beginning with Gabriella (Emily Woodward) and her friend Anna (Nadia Morgan) practising their Irish dancing and thinking of weddings rather than marriages, the audience is kept at a deliberate distance. Perks and her lighting designer Richard Godin create some marvellous effects which spotlight not just Gabriella’s attitude to her pregnancy but give its apparently mystical context enormous power.

Woodward is very good as the teenager with an angelic visitor. This is Amanda Haberland, mischievous as Gabriella’s mirror-image and then becoming altogether more sinister – those pigtails twisted high into embryonic horns – as her/his scenario goes awry. Christine Absolom is sympathetic as Gabriella’s mother, so desperate that her daughter doesn’t drift too far down her own past path.

Gillian Cally makes a ferocious Mother Superior, ruling her charges with implacable severity. She is also the mysterious stranger whose one encounter with Gabriella leads into the drama and the hill-billy uncle with an unpleasant agenda of his own. Morgan plays an interesting double of Anna (whose fiancé Sean is at first suspected of fathering Gabriella’s child) and the naïve nun Sister Assumpta.

In many ways this is a production which is far more effective than the play itself. It makes for an interesting theatrical experience – I saw it at a preview – that has an impact both while you are watching it and in retrospect.


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