The Mother of the Priest

Sat 2nd – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Rachel Mfon

at 02:39 on 16th Aug 2014

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The Mother, the priest and his lover are brought to life by the effortlessly talented Valentina Sulas. Adapted from The Mother by the Italian novelist, Grazia Deledda. The one-woman show tells the tragic story of a son who is forced into priesthood, and a mother who lives in fear and shame of his transgressions. Unable to distinguish his own voice from that of his mother and the infatuated Agnese, Paolo finds himself trapped between the two women he loves. The pressure only rises when Agnese seeks an answer to her question 'Paolo, are we or are we not?'

In her performance as the Mother, Sulas is the embodiment of grace and power. Even off-stage, she manages to captivate the audience. She begins the show with a soft, beautifully fragile song that resonates even before she enters. During the play's opening scene she locks eyes, holding her gaze for a few seconds, with each member of the audience, allowing us to see the frailty in her eyes whilst she speaks with pride. Sulas has an ability to say much with few words. We are enthralled by her even when there are moments of silence; in these moments we are given more than enough emotion to understand the depths of her character. With such an intense stage presence, we are stunned by her often quiet and introverted movements.

The one thing that took away from the beauty of her performance was the stage's backdrop, which caught my eye for all the wrong reasons. The dazzling disco balls above her and the garishly red streamers fight for our attention. The seriousness of her performance is compromised by the dreadful backdrop.

Looking beyond the staging, as difficult as this might be, the performance itself should not be judged by such a minor flaw. The harrowing story is told like poetry and the precious Sardinian songs (used effectively within scene changes) communicate with the audience and transcend barriers of language. Such exquisite words, delivered by a brilliant actress cannot be outshone by a few disco balls.

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Ben Horton

at 09:40 on 16th Aug 2014

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The dingy basement room of the Street (Venue 239), just to the right of the toilets, was hardly a fitting location for the artistry of Valentina Sulas in The Mother of the Priest. Set in Sardinia and adapted from a novel by renowned author Grazia Deledda, this was a tragic tale of love, loss, and guilt which tugged at the heart strings of all present.

As the lone actress, Sulas took on the parts of the three characters, as well as narrator in some sections, telling the story of a reluctant young priest who has taken the cloth at his mother’s instigation but who now has fallen in love. Much of the play revolved around his deliberations, agonising over whether to stay in the village and renounce his lover, or to run away with her. This confusion escalated to a tragic climax which left the audience questioning their own opinions.

The script was awash with poetic imagery, evoking the idyllic landscape of Sardinia with expansive eloquence. Whilst some may have found this language somewhat indulgent, I thought it perfectly fitted with the Romantic plot and tone. Intermingled with the script were short folk songs sung in the Sardinian language, apparently similar to Gaelic. These lent the production an ethereal and exotic atmosphere which was captivating despite our ignorance of their meaning. Unaccompanied, Sulas performed these songs with feeling and they were used to great effect when indicating changes between characters.

This last point was perhaps the only weak link in the production. One-person shows are often very effective, as this one was, but they sometimes suffer when a range of personae are presented. Although the songs helped Sulas to negotiate the changes between the longer monologues that began the play, she struggled to find a convincing means of switching characters in the dialogue sections.

This limitation aside however, The Mother of the Priest was a very enjoyable, unique production which deserved a larger and more professional venue because as many people as possible should see it. Sulas was captivating in a challenging role which showed how powerful one-person plays can be when done well.

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