Theatre

‘Is God Is’ review – Aleshea Harris’ wild, wild Western is one hell of a trip

★★★★

You’ll enjoy the journey far more than its meaning in Is God Is, Aleshea Harris’ award-winning, darkly comic revenge play about two daughters hunting down their abusive father with nothing more than a rock in a sock. Thrillingly cinematic under Ola Ince’s direction, the 100-minute production offers little opportunity for thought as scenes – each bookmarked with their own title, like a book – flash past. The thinking time comes later, as when the family considers how successful (or unsuccessful), we’re left to ask: at what cost? What message is this grisly, fiery escapade looking to send, or explore? Those two, post-show questions are entertaining in themselves.

To me, it reads like a musing on predetermination, something which is far from unfamiliar to Ince, who also directed the equally brilliant and ill-fated Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe. Our two protagonists are twins Racine (Tamara Lawrance) and Anaia (Adelayo Adedayo), and they are equal in every way – almost. They’ll take turns leaning on each other’s laps, say things at the same time and insult each other, but their clothes offer a clever symbolism of their moral stances. Racine, the more trigger-happy of the two, wears green, while emotional and hesitant Anaia wears orange. Her reluctance is noticeable, too, seen when their mother – referred to, primarily, as ‘God’ and played with hilarious dryness by Cecilia Noble – remarks on an awkward silence instigated by her daughter.

As the sisters set out on a journey of revenge, Racine is all too happy to follow the family narrative of karma and setting the world on fire, pretty much offing anyone she comes across. Anaia, meanwhile, isn’t so keen, and in an intriguing way, feels trapped in a world of obligatory violence for which there is no escape. In that respect, as we watch a high-octane thrill ride, it’s easy to empathise with Anaia and Adedayo’s performance. If you choose to perceive it this way – it’s very much left open to interpretation – Is God Is is about cemented, cyclical, paternal and destructive narratives, and how just how far you can go to escape them, if at all.

It’s certainly implied in Ince’s fascinating direction, as sets roll on and off-stage. Environments and props come to our protagonists, not the other way around; buildings revolve around them, and secondary characters walk into their path – and we’re introduced to many of them over the production. Chuck (Ray Emmett Brown) is a depressed and drunken alcoholic with a tendency to go on tangents rather than answer the twins’ questions. Scotch (Ernest Kingsley Jr) is one of two twins from the father’s new relationship, and an aspiring poet of the pretentious kind – both are frustrating characters (although enthusiastically performed) who embellish themselves in the first person, and stagger the pace of the sisters’ mission to the extent that the threat of violence by Racine to speed things up a bit is welcomed.

Such is the fast-paced nature of the play that we don’t really get a chance to process our questionable reactions to the violence – violence which is, for the most part, invisible, with minimal blood shed, as if indicating that such aggression is unnecessary and impractical in the pursuit of revenge. There’s no doubt that Is God Is will prompt comparisons to Quentin Tarantino and Martin McDonagh – it already has done over in the States. It certainly takes the aesthetics of the former and the dark comedy of the latter, though here, it’s in death that we hear an eerie silence, and for a play which is otherwise loud and energetic, the pause is disconcerting.

Visually, the production is stunning and subversive, with Chloe Lamford building upon the playful pacing and direction of Ince. Title cards descend from the heavens, cast shadows on the stage, and light up in shining lights. Coupled with the burning flames in the play’s opening and closing, its a staging which is as vibrant, bright, intense and destructive as the story itself.

We’ve long been told that revenge is a dish best served cold, but Is God Is serves it charred, scarred, and flaming hot.

Is God Is is now playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 23 October.


Production Images: Tristram Kenton.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Is God Is’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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