Sinners | Theatre Review
The Lyric Theatre, Belfast • Show runs until 03 June ’17
By Tom Loach
The premiere of Marie Jones’ Sinners was predictably packed in the Lyric Theatre on its opening night. Jones’ play, loosely based on French playwright Moliere’s Tartuffe is destined to bring in the crowds, as are almost all of the playwright’s plays in her “home turf”. Fans of her work will largely know what to expect stylistically – great one liners, local humour and well-studied caricatures of characters all of us inhabiting the north of the Island have met and are familiar with.
Sometimes these caricatures are presented without subtlety, which depending on the character heightens the laughs or induces the odd cringing sigh. The performances are largely posture driven, from the stiff-legged cantankerous Cultchie movements of Alan McKee’s Sydney, to Michael Condron’s embodiment of the sleazy but charismatic Pastor Walter O’Hare, who paces with the smug satisfaction of one of those loathsome stars of the God channel.
It’s through Condron’s scheming O’Hare that we’re given a villain and unreliable narrator wrapped up in one and a way into the story. Whilst the vanity of televangelists and our local clergy is an easy, obvious target for Jones’ satire, she uses him to break up the domestic farm life scenes with a series of fourth wall breaking running gags, catchy gospel music and audience addressing monologues. It’s perhaps the musical numbers, put together by composer Rod McVey which offer the most hypnotic moments of the play. Audience members are caught up at times in rhythmical clapping, perhaps a commentary on the beguiling pull religion still has on so many of us. This in turn is heightened by Alyson Cumming’s simple but effective set design. Using the curtain to separate the family dramas from the make-shift mission tent provides not only a hilarious projector screen, but a dividing wall and magnifying glass all in one.
What stood out as the biggest success for the play was its utilization of the nine different parts. As most writers will tell you, nine handers are not easy to write and although some supporting roles such as local legend Roma Tomelty’s Mabel feel underused, younger actors like Michael Johnston, Patrick McBrearty and Adele Gribbon are given just enough stage time to display their talents. Seannin Brennan’s long suffering Tania also proves to be the right choice for female protagonist. Unfortunately though, whilst the play comes to a satisfactory resolution there are moments where the second half feels a little bit laboured, let down by a questionable seduction sub plot and lack of cohesion.