“Why do you have to be so hurtful?” is the question asked repeatedly, and never responded to in a straightforward manner, in Abominations, an intriguing piece of theatre best summarised by the Pet Shop Boys tune “It’s A Sin” (which, I hasten to clarify, doesn’t feature in the show): “Everything I’ve ever done / Everything I ever do / Every place I’ve ever been / Everywhere I’m going to / It’s a sin.”
Or at least that’s the sort of confession that the outmoded Tony (Gary Heron) would like from his son Jeff (Alexander Hulme), who is married to Sharon (Natalie Harper) but in an affair with Malcolm (Christopher Burr). There’s not as much Bible-bashing as I had expected, and a show of this nature was hardly going to shock me personally. I had a strict evangelical background which still has repercussions to this day; a recent letter from a direct relative denounced me as a heretic irrevocably bound for the gates of Hell. None of the characters are quite so blunt though Sharon comes close – think of Lois in the television sitcom ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, or any other ridiculously irrational and hot-tempered tyrant.
The show raises pertinent issues that could be identified in any society in the world where uncompromising trains of thought cannot be penetrated, however enlightened the rest of the world is. But in a world where even certain television evangelists have accepted, for instance, albeit grudgingly, that “the Earth is as old as science requires it to be”, the likes of Tony and Sharon are certainly some way behind the times in their overall worldviews.
There’s a very good exploration, strung out over pretty much the whole play, of how hypocritical hardline fundamentalists can be. Sharon, ever the negative thinker, thinking out loud – for dramatic purposes, y’see – comes across as the sort of person that could talk herself out getting into a car because it might crash. But it’s Tony that Jeff is just about able to converse with, and Jeff goes in for the jugular in a rather sudden systematic demolition of homophobic attitudes, delivered from a liberal theology perspective.
The play is clearly thoroughly researched, judging from this slightly blinding whistle stop tour through certain biblical passages that have apparently been misinterpreted by Christians for many centuries. The alternative views asserted may have been fascinating to me (that prudish religious background again), though there was a thought in the back of my mind that in an era where church attendance is ever declining, such a detailed analysis of a certain verse in St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, amongst other Bible passages, may not have been entirely necessary. And, from my own experience, religious fundamentalists tend to practice “shunning” – that is, deliberately not having anything at all to do people who have been identified as sinful. That wouldn’t work here: it would make for a very short play!
The ending is suitably ambiguous, and I was not left completely assured that the decisions taken by the characters would necessarily be so final and life-changing. Abominations is certainly not an abomination, and there’s much to be talked about in the pub downstairs afterwards. This is not an easy production to sit through, but this does not mean this isn’t a good play. Quite the contrary, as it goes. A worthwhile play that, while falling under the category of ‘triumph over adversity’, never gets clichéd or overly predictable.
Review by Chris Omaweng
’Abominations’ written and directed by Matthew Campling
The Cast: Alexander Hulme, Natalie Harper, Gary Heron, Christopher Burr
’Married man Jeff is struggling to come out as a gay man. Jeff’s wife Sharon is frustrated and angry. Jeff meets Malcolm, a young man also on the verge of coming out. Malcolm’s warm but homophobic boss is Tony – who is also Jeff’s father. This hard-hitting, controversial play tackles Christian religious oppression and prejudice, homophobia and hypocrisy, and the courage to love’.
3 May 2016 – 7 May 2016 at 7:00pm
The Etcetera Theatre
above the Oxford Arms
265 Camden High Street
London NW1 7BU