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Orange Works presents Locusts – Edinburgh Fringe

There is, the audience is informed, a certain level of charisma that goes with Pastor Pete (Nick Blessley), the leader of an evangelical church whose membership appeared to bloom at least partially on account of his sparkling personality. Too much, however, is described instead of dramatized, relying too much on the audience’s imagination. While evangelicalism exists even in the Church of England, there are still many people who have never experienced what such a service is like. A ‘welcome to church’ beginning to the play isn’t capitalised on – I once went to a show with a more traditional church setting, for instance, where hymn books were provided and those who were agile enough to do so were invited to stand and sing an entire hymn.

Locusts - Credit Paul Simons.
Locusts – Credit Paul Simons.

The play has two of its characters, Pete and Stephen (Ian Tucker-Bell), recall events from three decades ago, which introduces the possibility of an unreliable narrator on both sides, given the passage of time. Again, what happened back in the day is described and not acted out. Flashback scenes would not necessarily require a larger cast, although I would have thought it would give the storyline more authenticity if there were a Young Pete and Young Stephen, and would allow the audience to see the pastor in his heyday, preaching as he would have done with the ‘congregation’ (that is, the audience) dazzled by his charm and oratory.

Jeff (Pierse Stevens) is Stephen’s current partner, and completing the on-stage cast is Sian (Julie Flower), a friend of Jeff (if I recall correctly), who struggles to get her head around Stephen’s past experiences. What is clear is that the pastor hadn’t heard from God after all, in the sense that he (doesn’t) have reason to believe that his prayers had contributed to Stephen being ‘cured’, inverted commas mine, of homosexuality. Such was the pressure being placed on Stephen to conform, he went along with it, and declared himself straight, mostly just to shut the pastor up.

Gay conversion therapy, in this instance, was declared to have worked: what might have happened to Stephen otherwise is a moot point. That said, if a different show at this year’s Fringe also about a man how practised religion as a younger person is to be believed, it is likely he would have been excommunicated had he not renounced being gay one way or another. The play’s unique selling point is that there isn’t a dramatic showdown – it’s a very British and subtle story, in which everyone maintains civility even when expressing diametrically opposed views.

It is an interesting story, and one that will resonate with anyone who has suffered at the hands of church leaders claiming to be doing the work of God. No wonder religion is in decline in modern society, which, generally speaking, has little if any time for bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Pete is probably the most polite and well-mannered antagonist I’ve ever come across. If anything, the play demonstrates how traumatic experiences need not necessarily be ear-splittingly loud.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

‘Locusts’ is a new play exploring lived experience of gay conversion therapy within an evangelical church.

Out of the blue Stephen is contacted by Pete – the pastor of the church he attended as a young man in the late 1980s. Back then Pete taught that there was no such thing as a gay Christian and prayed that God would make Stephen straight – something Stephen hoped for. To this day Pete believes it worked.

Now Pete wants the same for his daughter – and he wants Stephen to help.

At the Space at Surgeons Hall- Theatre 1 (V53) 14th – 19th and 21st – 26th August at 7:35pm
Cast: Ian Tucker-Bell, Pierse Stevens, Julie Flower, Nick Blessley.
Directed by Philip Holden.
Production Team: Philip Tucker-Bell, Faye Bedding, Sara Lacey.

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