Like A Prayer

Sun 20th – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Constance Kampfner

at 10:49 on 21st Aug 2017

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‘Like a Prayer’ is a little bit like having to listen to someone in Freshers’ Week tell you about their gap year. Clearly a life changing experience for the nervous 18 year old gesturing before you, it takes all of your energy to remain concentrated enough to ooh and ahh in the right places, before you can make a hasty exit.

The piece consists of a dialogue between Swiss couple Johannes Durrin and Julia Bihl, as they seek to give you an insight into what has shaped their Christian faith. Although the subject matter is not something I’d normally go for, I was intrigued before the show started. Perhaps this would be a powerfully rousing attempt at conversion, or a philosophical unpicking of our most callous modern tendencies.

Unfortunately, ‘Like a Prayer’ was less an exciting wakeup call, and more of a low-tech, stumbling Ted Talk. Disjointed anecdotes, awkwardly contrasted with imagined conversations with an uncharacteristically irritable Christ, made for an overall bitty effect. This was not helped by strange attempts to map out the whole spectrum of human belief using four different colours of gaffa tape. Nor was it aided by the fact that the performers frequently stumbled on, or simply forgot, their lines.

The production’s one saving grace is a film made by the pair at the the St Josef convent in Muothatal, which came on at various points during the production. I genuinely enjoyed the rare insight into the day to day life of six ageing nuns in this tucked away monastery. We are introduced to some real characters; one nun confides, with a cheeky smile, that had she not given her life up for God she would have instead found her purpose on the stage. Another tells a joke involving God as a sieve. In fact I would very happily have sat through the whole hour and a half watching these women in a documentary which was beautifully shot and at times rather moving.

The rest of ‘Like a Prayer’ however felt well intentioned, but disappointing. I found myself feeling frustrated at its seeming laziness. At points Durrin and Bihl get close to asking some important questions but often fall short, circumventing them for rather uninspired personal insights. A particularly painful moment came when Durrin expounded what a man might do to heal the spiritually rift between himself and his wife, after failing to pull his weight around the house. Maybe I’m missing something, but to me the simple answer would be to get on with the dishes first.

It seems to me that ‘Like a Prayer’ is not without potential, however it desperately needs re-imagining before I’d urge anyone to go and see it.

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Adele Cooke

at 13:37 on 21st Aug 2017

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‘Like a Prayer’ followed Johannes Dullin and Julia Bihl’s journey to discover Christianity, traversing through a series of anecdotes, the guidance of friends and their experiences in a convent. Told primarily through monologue and duologue, this show appeared more a conversation between friends than an attempt at conversion. This was especially evident through the frequent interjections and interruptions of both actors as they explained each other’s path to Christian redemption.

The show adopted a linear approach, beginning with an anecdote about their friend’s conversion following a move to Mexico. The performance then followed a very systematic format, progressing through stages of denial, acceptance, information and use of multi-mediums before returning to duologue at the close. This was structurally effective, if moderately predicable.

In the opening, I enjoyed an interesting use of masking tape, in discussion of the so called different types of believers: institutional, alternative, secular, and reserved. However, this seemed a little unrehearsed, as Johannes Dullin was frequently forced to prompt Julia Bihl. Initially Bihl’s nerves were apparent, as she also stumbled over her lines, and often had to pause to regain her train of thought. Despite this I enjoyed the familiarity of the two actors, both with each other and with the nuns they interacted with whilst in the convent of St Josef. I primarily engaged with this performance due to footage of the nuns completing tasks such as cooking, cleaning or talking directly to the camera. This gave the audience a clear insight into the experiences Dullin and Bihl had experienced during their conversion. I was especially touched by the nun’s blessing at the close of the footage, as she directly addressed the audience. This was heart-warming, and in my opinion highly successful.

In terms of production, the footage of the convent was well edited and structured, supporting Bihl and Dullin’s descriptions of their experience. I felt this documentary theatre enriched the performance, providing a break from the more traditional monologue and duologue structure. However, other elements of multi-modality were considerably less effective. At one point Bihl and Dullin seemed to experienced religious enlightenment, a moment represented with varied facial expressions and mood lighting. This detracted from the performance, and produced a few stifled giggles from the audience. I was also highly confused by a bizarre drawing at the close of the performance, representing the diversity of God’s creation, which I felt was erroneous to the narrative. This seemed to be a futile attempt to incorporate stylisation into the show, with limited success. Bihl and Dullin should have allowed their story to tell itself, instead of relying on the crutch of multi-modality and stagecraft. In actuality, the show owed its success to its factual substance, and the breaking of the fourth wall and the direct address of the audience, which felt personal and inclusive as they conveyed their experiences.

This show was a pleasant watch and at times moving. However, I felt the use of stagecraft detracted from the show’s success, and instead at times hindered the performance. Some people laughed, some left, but the show was a moderate success.

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