Perseverance Drive (Bush Theatre)
Robin Soans' new play at the Bush Theatre sparkles
Robin Soans' new play Perseverance Drive is a searing indictment of how evangelical elements of religion can break familial bonds, cause division where none is needed or wanted and shatter relationships forever.
It's also very funny. Surprised? Don't be. This is a sharply written piece that is both sympathetic to and contemptuous of its subject – it's the perfect balance.
Set both in Barbados and, somewhat surprisingly, Leytonstone, we see the Gillard family preparing for a funeral and, latterly, dealing with the fall-out. While father Eli tries to maintain his faith in the wake of his widowing, sons Nathan and Zek have found the Holy Spirit and are busy preaching its virtues to all who will listen – and some who will not. But what of Josh, the black sheep of the family? When he returns to the fold, all hell is bound to break loose... isn't it?
There's some excellent casting here from Gemma Hancock and Sam Stevenson. As Joshua, the only character who says what he really feels, Clint Dyer's performance is fresh and smart, and he is matched well by Leo Wringer's taut, traditional Eli – it's a real pleasure to watch their relationship develop from act to act. Frances Ashman is similarly excellent as bishop's wife Ruth, touchingly caught between her duty and her heart, and she has strong chemistry with Lloyd Everitt's Errol, horribly trapped under the thumb of controlling preacher father Marvin (Ray Shell).
Whether meant or not, there's also just a hint of homoerotic longing in Errol and Joshua's scenes, keeping you guessing and adding another intriguing layer to the drama. Akiya Henry, too, gives as good as she gets as the wounded Joylene, egging on husband Zek (Kolade Agboke) to ever more extreme preaching, Anne Boleyn-esque in the way she is spoken of at the start, but who soon twists her traumas to lord over those with any perceived vulnerability.
It's all too easy to laugh at the extremes of evangelical Christianity (Zek speaking in tongues just to pretend his mother's approval for his union, for instance), but Soans' cleverness is in underpinning all of this with familial fractures, showing how many of the family's 'spiritual' behaviours are motivated by bitterness and upset towards each other, and showing the variety even within this element of the religion – Ruth's kind and gentle nature being a case in point.
For non-Christians, too, it's easy to recognise the features of those who profess to be so but who do not behave in a Christ-like fashion (not judging others, for instance). Thought-provoking, sparkling stuff.