Review Round-up: Atwell & Soller in Kaye Campbell Epic
The play includes rising stars Hayley Atwell and Kyle Soller as young couple in New York exploring the often strenuous relationship between faith and capitalism, with particular focus on morally complexed issues such as homophobia within the Anglican Church, with other cast members including Ian McDiarmid, Jude Akuwudike and Bronagh Gallagher.
Jamie Lloyd's production runs at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 1 October 2011.
"Switching time zones, and ring tones, between sharp satire and metaphysical maundering, Alexi Kaye Campbell's new three-act play… attractively played by rising stars Hayley Atwell and Kyle Soller: their big disagreement on this particular day is over his guilt by association with a drugs company supposedly responsible for misery in Africa … Ian McDiarmid builds another of his rattily tempestuous performances that has everyone else, including the Russian housekeeper (beautifully played by Bronagh Gallagher)… diving for cover … Although the play is continuously absorbing, and Jamie Lloyd's production is admirably laid out on Mark Thompson's cleverly adaptable setting of leaning walls, and is very well acted, a sort of enigmatic wishy-washiness muffles the hard centre of the characters and situations. In some ways, too, the play is almost too stridently old-fashioned. But that's no bad thing, necessarily, and with three substantial, clever dramas now registered - on gay politics, feminism and now religion - Kaye Campbell has certainly arrived. It's a nice gritty touch, too, that the Kenyan bishop and the gay groom, who's reconstructing his lost wedding speech, are played by the same fine actor, Jude Akuwudike; and that someone notes how similar they are, and not just because of the colour of their skin."
“Although the piece occasionally meanders, I admire it for its expansive ambition and largeness of spirit … One could easily pick holes in Campbell's larger argument and specific details… but Campbell's play overcomes its flaws because it is saying something important: that individualism is insufficient, that mankind lives by myths and stories and that we all need some kind of faith even if we can no longer subscribe to the dogmas of organised religion. Jamie Lloyd's production also puts vivid theatrical flesh on Campbell's ideas. Hayley Atwell as Sophie excellently surmounts the problem of playing a truly good woman by suggesting she is tempted by worldly vanity. Ian McDiarmid as her father, decaying in body but tough in spirit, also memorably locks horns with Jude Akuwudike as an impassioned Kenyan bishop. And, although Sophie's lover tests one's patience, Kyle Soller endows him with a compelling neurotic insecurity and a genuine potential for change. Even if the tension flags a bit in the second act, this remains an urgent play that has the courage to address big issues: above all, the need to retain our idealism in a world where ideology is suspect, religion tarnished and the free market wholly discredited."
"Although often over-earnest and preachy, the Royal Court's latest play is a breakthrough in the religion v atheism battle. Alexi Kaye Campbell's offering does not descend to the sort of well-worn mockery of religion we have had to endure from certain high temples of subsidised art in recent years … This almost three-hour show is crammed with thoughtful material, quite a lot of it about the politics of the worldwide Anglican communion. That sort of thing fascinates me but it might leave some of you less gripped … Ian McDiarmid, who never knowingly underacts, gives us a cloyingly saintly turn as a pro-gay Church of England bishop. Hayley Atwell plays the bishop’s slightly less priggish daughter Sophie, a turn much helped by Miss Atwell’s defiantly earthy stage presence. Playwright Campbell seems uncertain how to end the piece. Much of the final scene is almost a parody of luvviness as the characters examine books which belonged to a dead person – every title, seemingly, a classic of liberal purity. The character who digs into your memory, however, is Sophie’s boyfriend Tom. Kyle Soller delivers the part with tremendous, transparent amiability.”
"The Faith Machine is a flawed if admirably ambitious offering… it's a ruminative piece … Kaye Campbell depicts a series of collisions between competing ethics and agendas. And in Jamie Lloyd's production, extended by two intervals to almost three hours, the moments of friction are confidently achieved. The best performance comes from Kyle Soller. His nuanced work as Tom confirms that he is an actor of impressive range. Hayley Atwell makes the most of the somewhat cramped role of Sophie, Ian McDiarmid is eerily authoritative as Edward, and there's a memorable contribution from Bronagh Gallagher as his Russian housekeeper chuntering about "smoky salmon". The writing is studded with smart lines, yet too often it is preachy and contrived. Campbell engages with the legacy of 9/11, but after a great deal of early promise, the play comes unstuck through trying to address too many weighty issues. The weak final scene heightens the impression that his message is less exhilarating than he imagines, while also suggesting that he has not arrived at a sufficiently focused vision of how to give it dramatic life."
“Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play is ambitious, impassioned and eloquent , with some of the best laughs since Clybourne Park … Sophie Hayley Atwell is an earnest bishop’s daughter whose childhood faith is transformed into social conscience. Tom is Kyle Soller, ganglingly ginger, tuning his cocky motor-mouth act to a brilliant awkwardness as an ambitious advertising copywriter … These two love one another, though differences drive her into the arms of a Chilean Marxist UCL… and him to an airhead interior decorator, a hilarious cameo from Maya Wasowicz. Looming over both is the waspish, suavely angry performance of Ian McDiarmid as the liberal bishop: first a ghost at his daughter’s elbow, then in his prime demolishing a homophobic fellow cleric (Jude Akuwudike, wittily doubled later as a larky gay bridegroom) … Maybe issues are heaped on with too free a hand; maybe having two intervals is jerky, though it does enable us to ask one another 'Where the hell can it go next?' Certainly the bland white walls and occasional apocalyptic projections in Jamie Lloyd’s production feel unnecessarily tricksy. Never mind. This funny, thoughtful, decent-spirited play will see many future productions”
“Alexi Kaye Campbell is astute about the tricky erosion of ideals … But The Faith Machine, his sprawling, preachy new piece – now premiered in a well-acted but strangely uncompelling production by Jamie Lloyd – feels at once deficient in ambiguity and divided in purpose … There's a very good moment in the second scene when Sophie's father, an Anglican Bishop (played with a fierce flamboyance by Ian McDiarmid), is countered by the Kenyan cleric who has been sent to persuade him not to resign from the Church because of its intolerant stance on homosexuality … But that is one of few instances of genuine dialectical tension in a play where the author's mouthpieces are allowed to spout unnaturally eloquent soundbites insufficiently opposed. The dice prove to be loaded, too, in the treatment of Sophie (an impressively 'earthed' Hayley Atwell). Heroic reporter from the world's trouble spots or a hectoring prig who has denied her instincts in favour of a life of vicarious suffering? Tom (all frenetic, rootless fluster in Kyle Soller's striking performance) is driven to think the latter. But instead of leaving you fruitfully in two minds as had seemed to be its aim, the play wheels on a heart-tugging new character in a unearned final scene that shamelessly simplifies this maddening, contradictory figure as an undercover saint."
- Caitlin Robertson