Lucifer Saved (The Lion and Unicorn Theatre)
The Devil stalks this morality play about crime, guilt and forgiveness
When you're writing a play and have already cast yourself as Lucien Willow, the leading man, there must be a terrible temptation to make your speeches a little longer and more grandiose than they might otherwise have been.
Peter Oswald's Lucifer Saved was first presented as a rehearsed reading back in 2007. This new and extended version is almost three hours long, and much of the second half is devoted to army chaplain Lucien's metaphysical ravings, played with fierce intensity by Oswald himself.
No sooner has poor Lucien emerged from a fog of amnesia 20 years after the war, than this previously mild-mannered man becomes convinced he's the full-on devil incarnate.
So Lucien is transformed into Lucifer, casts off his clerical cardigan, and then spends the rest of the show topless apart from his dog-collar, rather like a chaplain from the Chippendales.
This surreal performance is echoed by the bizarre circus acts who visit the stately home where Lucien is sheltered by his possessive old Commanding Officer Lord Brook, played by Anthony John Crocker.
The troupe, led by sparkling, spirited Alison Halstead as Reginalda, includes Clara, a bearded lady with a big secret (Helen Aldrich), and Rupert Elford who has some terrific circus tricks and certainly helps to lift the mood as Ronaldo the clown.
But the big story simmering beneath it all goes back to the war and a dreadful crime committed in Berlin, in the aftermath of the German defeat.
Its cover-up and consequences stretch across the years and threaten to destroy the happiness of everyone involved. Yet the heightened levels of physical and narrative absurdity in the show, deliberately stoked by the circus theme, run the risk of leaving coolness at the very points where audience emotions should run high.
Director Ray Shell has successes within the production. The love story between Lord Brook's dutiful daughter Sarah (Victoria Lane) and young German Wulf, is tenderly portrayed, with Mark Gillham heroically managing his incomprehensible lines as a foreigner with poor English.
Lord Brook, too, has a wild-eyed determination to protect his reputation that gives a solid foundation to the play's narrative thread.
This is essentially a morality play about the devil within us all, and whether it's possible to be saved by forgiveness. Shell describes the writing as "majestic, magical, beautiful verse", and Peter Oswald certainly does have a way with words. But the Devil is not one to resist temptation, and in Lucifer Saved he simply doesn't know when to stop talking.