We Go Wandering At Night
Paul Ham & Brendan Murphy
Photographer: Matthew Burton
Written and Directed by Paul Ham
Cock Tavern Theatre
10 - 15 August 2009
A review by Alexandra Carey for EXTRA! EXTRA!
We Go Wandering At Night is advertised as exploring ‘the distorted ethics, morals and politics in religion today’, so I must admit to expecting some two-dimensional stereotypes and axe-grinding laid on with a trowel. However, what this surprising little play actually delivers is far from that - it’s a touching, often perceptive and very funny exploration of one young man’s gradual acceptance of and release from his guilt.
The concept is very simple - Adam is dead and now he’s sitting in a waiting room talking to the disembodied, and not always very cooperative, voice of God (or so he and we assume). This potentially stagnant and contrived concept is relieved by the sometimes hilarious knots Adam ties himself in over the course of these conversations, as well as the bizarre ways he finds to pass the time (my favourite being the rhyme sequence!) and the introduction in the final third of the play of the character of Mr Deus. This sort of ‘heaven-lawyer’ - a rather tactless and brash man who, nevertheless, points Adam towards a way out and helps him see himself - is played by the author, Paul Ham, with a lovely energy and confidence which certainly stands in contrast to Adam’s confusion. He also provides the means for a shift in the central character’s thinking which allows the play to break out of its circularity and come to a natural and powerful end.
Perhaps the least successful elements of the play are the ‘flashback’ moments in which Adam relives his past. Although these moments offer the means for some very funny caricatures and a further vehicle for Brendan Murphy to display his versatility, they break the growing atmosphere and oppression of the waiting room and remove focus from Adam himself and his reaction to the various characters and events. Nevertheless the character of Adam is drawn with depth and subtlety and Brendan Murphy carries the play and Adam’s developing understanding with a lovely mix of youthful petulance and raw sensitivity. Daniel Doidge also does a good job as ‘The Voice’, suitably and annoyingly calm, and the irreverent treatment of the God character makes for an entertaining and unexpected dynamic.
Paul Ham writes in the programme notes that he didn’t know about faith before researching and writing the play; having watched it I feel he now knows something of the essence of faith, something about the way we see ourselves and about forgiveness, which is embodied in We Go Wandering At Night. There is certainly confusion, and there are certainly no easy answers. There is the sense of Ham’s vaunted palindrome - the sense that it all begins and ends with decisions we make, that it’s possible to slip into circularity and to talk in never ending questions, that there are some pretty troubling aspects of faith - but this is not where the play ends. It offers something more and ultimately hopeful at its end and, while the play’s theology can be sketchy and is often used for its own ends, it is not simplistic or trying to draw easy conclusions and condemnations.
My advice to this talented young company would be to rethink their advertising; this is not a play about religion it’s a play about personal faith, its not really about the palindromes it’s about forgiveness and moving forwards. Perhaps the play has grown bigger than the original concept in production, I don’t know, but it works and its worth seeing.
Cock Tavern Theatre
125 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 6JH
Box office: 08444 771000
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