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Kiln Theatre, London
MUCH hangs on this show as it launches the newly named Kiln Theatre in Kilburn, formerly the Tricycle. Powerful opposition to the rebranding is so dividing the locals that it falls to Alexis Zegerman’s Holy Shit to restore faith, as if the brilliantly refurbished new building with its state-of- the-art facilities were not enough.
The play, safe in the hands of artistic director Indhu Rubasingham, sees two couples plotting and scheming to get their respective four-year-olds into the best local Church of England primary school, whose intake is reserved solely for worshippers.
Juliet and Nick are already registered members of the church, though Nick’s African heritage has landed him with a strange confusion between C of E and the Holy City Faith and Deliverance Tabernacle of Prayer. Sam and Simone, however, are Jewish and while Simone has no qualms about converting, Sam is a committed atheist.
The first act works its socks off to create comedy for an audience who already seem on-message. But, though quips tumble out at an almost desperate speed, the couples are difficult to like and the serious question of why admission to our education system should be so unfair and convoluted is lost in the pursuit of laughs. We learn little that is new.
But, after the interval, the play comes into its own. From the moment when Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Simone sings a piercingly beautiful Agnus Dei during her confirmation, we begin to understand the actual beliefs that are at stake here and to dig deep into the confused values and complex prejudices that really drive these seemingly superficial, go-getting social climbers.
And as the characters lose their cool and descend into betrayals of friendship, exchanges of racial slurs and general exposure of how they really think, a final awful irony emerges, eloquently summed up by Daon Broni as Nick. “Your child’s success,” says Nick — a long-serving teacher and he should should know — “has nothing to do with the school.” It’s “the pushy fucking parents” who are “the only influence on the children that makes a difference.”
The play's topical theme will resonate with many and it has an accomplished cast, with Claire Goose and Daniel Lapaine complementing the foursome. But some aspects seem contrived and the children who are so central to the plot never appear.
Easy watching, though, and full of an energy that promises a lively season ahead.
Runs until October 6, box office: kilntheatre.com
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