Saturday, January 28, 2006

Meet 'The Gabriels'

Some dozen off us went to watch 'The Gabriels' on a very chilly Thursday evening. The Finnborough is a tiny theatre perched on top of a pub somewhere behind Earl's Court. We were a little disconcerted by a strong smell of fish as we ascended the stairs, but this turned out to be the actors' dinner -- eaten on stage: a touch of realism in what was otherwise a surrealist piece of theatre. Punctuated with biblical passages read by torchlight, the action takes place in a cottage where the atmosphere is as stormy inside as the weather is outside.

A lesbian couple's relationship is in crisis over the care of their cystic-fibrosis suffering son (whom we never meet). Coming to visit are a gay couple involved somehow in the in-vitro conception of the son, one of whom has throat cancer and the other is an advocate of scientific research railing against bad science reporting. (I couldn't help wondering how the anti-tabloid ranting went down with critics from said papers on press night.) The twenty-something prodigal son, from a previous marriage, brings his fundamentalist Christian girlfriend to stay, throwing the household into panic and neatly turning on its head the usual parent-child relationship: mother is horrified when they refuse to share a bed.

In the meantime, one of the lesbian mums is writing a futuristic graphic novel with a subplot about the dangers of cloning. This was cleverly done with the scenes framed as part of the backdrop and the action spilling over to the foreground every now and then.

This heady mix of gender politics, genetics, sci-fi and religion always teetered on the edge of chaos but somehow it never lost the plot. The result was a truly engaging, memorable play, performed by a very strong cast. Both sides of the cloning debate were forcefully aired -- interesting and refreshing to see a science issue at the heart of a narrative in which there were so many dramatic possibilities.

Unfortunately The Gabriels's run at the Finnborough has now ended, but I hope it will be resurrected elsewhere as it deserves a bigger audience.


aj said...

Not really knowing what to expect from this play heightened my sense of surprise and delight during the performance. The small theatre adds to the intensity of some of the scenes, and allows the small cast emphasise their roles.

I felt pleased that these big issues that I consider to be close to my heart were being highlighted and discussed - and seemingly concluded (Science triumphs over Religion!). The play managed to include so many issues - Israel vs Palestine, Asperger's, Cystic Fibrosis, Cancer, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and Ectopic Pregnancy, Sexuality, Religion, Stem Cell Research, Cloning, Sex Before Marriage, all set against the background of a comic book and passages from Genesis (the story of Jacob - Ambitious, but seamless and delivering on every front.

I would recommend this play to anyone with an interest in the science-religion debate, but I suspect that the Christians may come away feeling harrassed and under-represented; unfortunately for them this is the crux of the play. However, it is nice to see a definitive stand being taken by the writer, without the 'cop-out' of an open ending.

I do hope this important and excellent play revisits the London theatre circuit in the not too distant future - be sure to go if it does.

Anna said...

This was a fantastic play and couldn't be more appropriate for Medical Humanity students. As has been said it drew in numerous themes and has left me pondering.

For the non medical, it was educational, explaining stem cell research in a way that the lay person can easily relate to. It challenged the way our media communicates science and reiterated how disasterously scaremongering and bias it can be.
I am glad to see that theatre is being used in this way. It's intensity has a way of reaching minds and challenging our belief systems. I only wish this play was more accessible to the masses.

Taz said...

I found this play great on so many levels. The solid performances from all the actors gave us a good insight into the stem cell/religious debate and also portrayed the human side of the story very well. For many people this debate is very much on paper and in the press, and it is unfortunate that this play is not touring further to give more people a chance to actually watch and feel how these issues affect lives - whether real or just fictional character.

Drawing on themes of sexuality, relationships, politics and humanity the play effectively challenges what you believe, whichever side of the argument you take.