How The World Began by Catherine Trieschmann – Arcola Theatre London – Review

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Two diametrically opposed worldviews?

Whilst on my way to the theatre yesterday to see this play about science and religious fundamentalism I saw a Pentecostal group shrieking (via a very loud PA system, surely that’s worthy of an ASBO?) how unless you agreed with them you were going to hell, I crossed over the road only to see some muslims handing out leaflets and books. I hastened on, only to be obstructed by another Christian with leaflets. “yikes” says I ducking off the high street before the Hare Krishna’s turned up.

As I settled down in the theatre I was transported to Plainview in Kansas, USA, where New York science teacher Susan is having to deal with the consequences of calling non-scientific views such as creationism “gobbledygook”, in a town where Christian fundamentalism holds sway. The instigator of the trouble is student Micah, whose faith in a literal understanding of the Bible is causing him to feel the teacher has offended god and therefore judgement will befall the town. Well meaning guardian of Micah, Gene tries to be the peace maker, but has his own fundamentalist world view.As Susan realises she and the inhabitants of Plainview, “live in completely different universes”.

Catherine Trieschmann’s play deals sensitively and cleverly with the issues, of faith, science, education and the dangers of fundamentalism. It would have been easy to portray Micah as a stupid kid, but she gives him depth and makes us realise that there are often root causes to fundamentalists holding the views they do. Gene as Micah’s guardian is a wonderful character, a guy just trying to do the best he can for the young man who’s he come to look after tragedy. Science teacher Susan, is also a more sophisticated character than just a stock atheist, with her concerns for her health insurance and wanting to make a difference. Trieschmann offers no real answer beyond the obvious one, that unfortunately the two world views are so different, that little reconciliation is possible. She rightly shows how the religious when challenged don’t resort to dialogue but violence and intimidation. Also how a fundamentalist world view is driven primarily by fear above all else.

There's a storm brewing in Plainview

I come from a fundamentalist background, when I was Micah’s age I’d have said the same as him which is rather sobering. Thankfully I realised the folly of my ways and so this play was of special interest and I can identify with all the characters. I’m sure they’ll be many who’ll think this is an American issue, but there are numerous calls for creation to be taught in UK state schools. It already IS in many of the faith/fundamentalist schools that have proliferated over the last decade in the UK. Let’s also not forget the Church of England often thought of as a bit of a national joke, had leaders say that recent floods in the UK were the result of god’s wrath on the UK’s accommodation of other faiths and lifestyles. Not forgetting the “curse” on the millennium stone in Carlisle that is apparently responsible for the outbreak of foot and mouth and the flood there. The UK can certainly give the US a run for its money with religious fundamentalism.  This video is worth watching if you want to see a bit more about the US and creationism:

That’s why I think this is a timely play. The cast of three, Anna Francolini (Susan), Ciaran McIntyre (Gene) and Perry Millward (Micah), give excellent performances. Anna Francolini allows the audience to see and feel her frustrations, Ciaran McIntyre provides the necessary foil and humour and you have to sympathise with him trying his best to raise Micah. Perry Millward despite his youth is excellent, his role as Micah is a demanding one and he never allows his character to stray into melodrama or become too much of a religious nutter. The play has humorous and touching scenes aswell as more serious and dramatic moments.

Des Kennedy is the recipient of the inaugural Out of Joint Directing Award. His direction allows the claustrophobia of the classroom to spill over into the world views clashing. The classroom serves as the pressure cooker for the views to explode, like the Big Bang. The use of sound and projections during the scene changes were effective and nice touch.

As you can see this is a topic that is of personal interest, and I certainly recommend this play to you should the subjects of education, religion, evolution and creationism be of interest to you. Even if they’re not, this is a dramatic and exciting play that has some great characters and gives an insight to worldviews you may not have encountered.

STARS : * * * *

ps,

for those that are interested I recommend this blog, unreasonable faith.

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One thought on “How The World Began by Catherine Trieschmann – Arcola Theatre London – Review

  1. Pingback: “No Honest Man Would Attend a Play”, The Pilgrim’s Progress – Saltmine Theatre Company | Theatre Thoughts Blog

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