Alexi Kaye Campbell's newest play is The Faith Machine, currently on at the Royal Court, after the recent regional premiere of The Pride in Sheffield. The blurb on the Court's website says: "Travelling from America to Britain to a remote Greek island, this epic new play explores the relationship between faith and capitalism and asks fundamental questions about the true meaning of love."
Confused? Don't worry, we all felt that way. This is one of those weird plays where the performances are pretty good but the story itself strives too hard to 'mean' something. We flip between time periods and locations as we witness Sophie's life - firstly, her advertising exec boyfriend who doesn't share her staunch morals and her father, ready to quit the church over its homophobia after 47 years. Later, we see all of these sections of her life disintegrate slowly but somehow inevitably.
As boyfriend Tom, fairly recent RADA graduate Kyle Soller is the epitome of versatility. Moving from hilarity to devastation in the blink of an eye, Soller is deliciously interesting to watch as he skilfully holds the narrative together.
Hayley Atwell does a good job as daughter Sophie, combating Soller well in their numerous fight scenes - you truly feel that they could have been lovers. She has great presence and good comic timing, and completes some difficult scenes with fortitude. Ian McDiarmid as her father also does well with the material, which, for his character, becomes quite tough going towards the end.
The problem with The Faith Machine is that it just seems to be a vehicle for Campbell to express his own views. In the first act, this grates somewhat, while it does seem to work better in the second, which sucks you in more. Campbell's laudable attempt to make some important points instead results in a mish-mash of scenes where nothing is really said at any deep level.
The characters, too, ring less true the more you think about them. Sophie is so good it's almost unbelievable. Yes, she might lose it at Tom on occasion, but always in defence of her staunch beliefs. Even when she's pissed, she's unrealistically elegant. Tom, meanwhile, suffers from the opposite problem. Very much the everyman of this scenario, his character swings through the gamut of emotions, but we never really see anything deeper, besides his obvious trauma at not being with Sophie. Both characters are so inflexible and stuck in their own thought processes it frustrates.
Other moments that annoyed: the noting of the character doubling. We're not watching a farce. No need to make that so obvious. And there's something peculiar about Agatha - the question of whether her accent is meant to sway between African and English or whether this is a fault of the actress is unclear.
See it once, not sure you'll want to see it again.