Staying Faithful (Drayton Arms Theatre)

Staying Faithful (Drayton Arms Theatre, until March 9th)

Posters bedeck the back of the set featuring the likes of Oasis, Lord of the Rings, Trainspotting and Britney Spears. The drama that unfolds onstage in Staying Faithful  at Drayton Arms Theatre sometimes reflects the poster themes, with a loud soundtrack of late Nineties and Noughties hits, in a play about adolescent angst that is Friends with a faith perspective, Cold Feet with a philosophical edge, or Skins with added millenial crises.

Rosanna Foster’s coming of age drama (she also directs) covers around 12 or so years in the lives of six friends from sexual fumblings at school to the aftermath of a major incident that transforms all of their lives.

The action leaps between timeframes as the story is revealed and it is to the credit of the very able young company (most of whom appeared in the original production in Croydon two years ago) that this is never confusing but serves to heighten the tension surrounding the mysterious significant event. OK, so that event may be pretty well signposted, but it doesn’t detract from the emotions involved and the way in which everything is untangled around it.

In just two hours a lot is addressed: “Who is God?” is a question asked more than once, seeking forgiveness, the complexities of love are unpeeled and there’s even an amusing conversation which explains the whole thinking of Descartes as akin to Keanu Reeves and The Matrix.

It’s a play that isn’t afraid of considering every facet of its title as the characters seek to stay faithful to each other, to who they are and to God, whoever that omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent being might be to the lively teenagers witnessed at the opening.  It shows people playing with faith and playing at being faithful. Given that so many of the characters have some sort of faith background, that angle could be developed and explored (the faith of the two Jewish characters, for example, is referred to only in passing). The audience is left to work out who truly has a sense of the divine, who is the most devilish, and who is grounded in no defining belief at all.

Hope (played with insightful maturity by the newcomer to the cast, Gabrielle Quaye) is the committed Christian of the group, more certain about her faith than her identity and it is to the play’s credit that she is portrayed honestly and without judgement, her simple prayer helping another character at a time of crisis.

Providing an interesting balance is Maria Anthony’s introverted but intelligent April, who treats faith as a lucky dip, one minute calling for a sharing of apologies to mark Yom Kippur, the next wanting to celebrate the first day of Diwali or seeking enlightenment on the Buddhist Bodhi Day. She claims she is trying to understand the world and connect with people of different beliefs yet is accused of holding nothing sacred at all. Certainly a core question in this piece is how acceptable it is to force ideas and beliefs on others.

Nothing or no-one is entirely what they appear to be as together they explore who they are and what they believe. One character is even accused of fabricating memories in a significant scene which wrong foots the audience. Unravelling plot threads are skilfully woven together by the time of the stark ending which nonetheless offers hope and possibilities.

Suzie Voce’s Chazza is the more confident of the friends, caring little for laws and conventions (maybe she is the serpent in the garden, tempting the otehrs into forms of sin), while Laura Perry’s Jess perhaps makes the greatest journey of discovery, learning that friendship and reality are more important than memories which can lie or disappear.

The two male characters Zac (Anthony Portsmouth giving a great contrast between the boisterous adolescent and the serious adult) and Fletch (Philip Davis-Walker as the teenager whose dreams are shattered by a single act of folly) are well-drawn, meaning that everyone has a charm and likeability in spite of their respective flaws.

Played out in the small upstairs pub venue, the play is sturdy and substantial and deals sensibly with themes and issues beyond a desire simply to be provocative.

Chocolate Chilli Theatre from Croydon is a relatively new company which, from the evidence of this play alone, has a passion to support and encourage young talent and seems destined to go far.

It’s a real shame Staying Faithful has such a limited run but such are its strengths that it seems very unlikely that it won’t be around again. Producing such a watchable and thoughtful play means it deserves every ounce of championing.

David Guest

A version of this review originally appeared on The Reviews Hub