by Andrew Goreing
Top Cat’s tale has the critics purring
If you enjoy pondering the great conundrums of the human condition, Promise will tax and stimulate you. If you’re into light entertainment, choose something else.
This is a meaty play that heads deep into murky territory – does God heal, can illness be psychosomatic, has the church lost its gifts over the centuries? – but is not so foolhardy as to draw conclusions.
These huge themes are played out in the context of an ordinary couple facing ordinary crises – funerals, illness, domestics. They live on the brink, tension overwhelms them, but they are not belittled.
This balance between The Big Issues and everyday human reality is jealously guarded by Top Cat Theatre Company. The tension between characters, generated by Helen’s MS and her faith, is almost tangible, particularly in clashes between Helen (the outstanding Jude Salmon) and husband Derek (Fudge Fordyce).
Yet personalities are carefully honed to ensure those people become real to us. There are beautifully stereotyped dippy born-agains, a Bible-bashing preacher and high-church sceptics. It is quite a feat to make them all sympathetic, but they achieve it, making accessible a play asking difficult questions.
For the audience alone, Promise is challenging because of its disjointed timescale and its alternative endings. For the cast, it is also a test of stamina – and one to which they rise without even an interval. The director makes the very best use of a stark, and therefore startlingly effective, set.
With the possible exception of the PA system used for interior monologues, this was a very memorable performance. And a moving, challenging and startling play which refuses to budge from my mind.
In Touch, January 1998