Adelaide Fringe 2013

Agnes of God

0 Comments 28 February 2013

Agnes of God

A young nun, Agnes, is accused of murdering her newborn baby. Psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone is appointed by the court to assess her sanity before the trial. When obsession takes over, Martha refuses to stop until she uncovers the truth about the murder. All the while, the Mother Superior attempts to shield Agnes from the persistent psychiatrist.

What develops is a compelling clash between science and religion. The women use vastly different beliefs in their attempts to help Agnes. Martha believes in facing the truth and the dark secrets locked away in Agnes’ subconscious. Mother Superior shelters Agnes, insisting that ignorance and an unyielding faith in God will lead to happiness. Regardless of what you believe, Agnes of God will have you questioning the power of faith and love.

Who killed the baby? Who is the father? Was Agnes seduced or raped – or worse, was she the seductress? What happened in her past? Is she pure and innocent, or is she psychotic? Each truth revealed only leads to more questions.

The play builds in intensity from the opening image; the three women’s shadows projected onto a screen. The stage is a white, sterile psychiatrist’s office which contrasts perfectly with the venue: an old church with an exposed beam roof – the intersection of old and new.

With the raised ceiling and brilliant acoustics, the vocals are simply astounding. The actors’ voices are commanding, particularly the opposing authoritative tones of Kathy Fisher as Mother Superior and Nicole Rutty as Dr. Martha Livingstone.  In contrast, Michaela Burger’s singing is breathtaking and her agonised screams are penetrating.  The performance hinges on its sound. It begins with a voiceover, explaining the court case and alleged crime. Throughout the play, the actors give chilling monologues, revealing layer after layer of deception, lies, and hidden crimes.

Tony Assness’ costume design, however, gives us insight into the characters before a word is spoken. Agnes is dressed in all white, symbolising her purity and innocence, whereas Martha and Mother Superior wear mostly grey, with splashes of black and white.

Whilst the characters are doubtful of everything – including who they are, what they believe in – the actors are truly remarkable. Martha, Mother Superior and Agnes are complex characters that challenge and enlighten their audience. There is no standout performance; every actor is enthralling. Together, they handle the suspense and tough subject matter wonderfully. The play itself, written by John Pielmeier, does not judge or condemn, despite the imminent court case. It simply observes the intersection of two forms of thought, and how each can be both damaging and healing.

Agnes of God is a remarkable piece of theatre. Despite being written in 1979, the themes of science, religion, faith, love, and blame are very much relevant to a modern audience.  It will leave you pondering longer after the lights come up.

Agnes of God runs until March 9 at The Arch, Holden Street Theatres.

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