Inigo (White Bear)
Jonathan Moore's new play comes across as too threadbare, dull and "fringey" for its own good
At my Jesuit grammar school, the same one Alfred Hitchcock went to (a few years previously!), we had to write the acronym AMDG ("Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam") at the top of each sheet of paper regardless of subject. Jonathan Moore's new play is not dedicated to the greater glory of God but the lesser story of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order in the 16th century.
Inigo, as Ignatius was known, was a Basque nobleman and soldier who underwent a spiritual transformation when wounded in battle. He started having visions, went on a pilgrimage, became a hermit, founded the Society of Jesus and wrote a classic cornerstone of Catholic literature, Spiritual Exercises.
It's a good story, but the Jesuits, who came to represent the radical, intellectual wing of the church, are not fully reflected in it, and at a time when we have the first Jesuit pope, Pope Francis, it might have been salutary to be reminded why he, the pope, is such a refreshing breath of fresh air and potentially radical reform.
Instead, Moore piles up the incidents and episodes - bit of revelling, bit of fighting, bit of breast-beating - in a dutiful historical documentary style which might appeal to followers of Wolf Hall but is really more in tune with Spanish golden age drama, or a rollicking new play, perhaps, at the Globe; that's where I think Moore is aiming, but there's an awful lot more fleshing out to be done, and the representation of conflict - between Inigo and his friends, prosecuting lawyers and clerical rivals needs sharpening.
Moore can be a candescent writer and director, but this epic in a small dark room with a lot of curtain material for costumes and an uneven cast comes across as too threadbare, dull and "fringey" for its own good. You also feel the play finishes where it might have started, breaking free from the cloister and advocating contemplation in action.
Inigo is played by Fayez Baksh, who is of Yemeni-Arab parentage, raised as a Muslim. He looks a bit like Inigo and can roll his eyes in a religious rapture, but he can't summon the range of expression or power to make the guy interesting. Instead, Inigo comes across as a bit of a drip, the last thing you could ever say of any Jesuit I've ever known.
The experienced Timothy Block chips in with some thunderous objections and Tom Durant-Pritchard is an athletic Loyola and Francis Xavier. But the play preaches where it should illustrate with argument and action, and there's another area of ambiguity - in Inigo's relationship with the aristocratic sponsor (Hilary Tones) who finds her own faith challenged - that might have flared more forcefully into dramatic life.
Inigo runs at the White Bear Theatre until 28 February. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.