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Review of INIGO at the Pleasance Theatre

Fayez Bakhsh as Inigo
Fayez Bakhsh as Inigo

Catholicism has not had a good press recently, with the paedophile scandals and then its utter rejection of gay marriage, with the Irish vote described as a “defeat for humanity” by the Vatican’s top diplomat. It is probable that at the Vatican itself, in the process of reforming its entire communications strategy under the counsel of our own Lord Patten of Barnes, they still have absolutely no idea what a PR disaster that pronouncement was. Countering these long-running problems is the gloriously charismatic person of the Pope himself. Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and so this play, Inigo, is surely a must-see, and not just for anyone interested in modern faith, spirituality and the modern Catholic Church.

Inigo was the baptismal name of Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque minor nobleman and 16th century founder of the Society of Jesus. His legacy is enduring and arguably getting stronger as the decades pass, and not just because of the Pope.

His spiritual exercises have profoundly influenced modern society and remain as accessible to believers and non-believers today as they did when he wrote them.

At their heart, they offer a means of facing up to denial, and then moving forward to release from addiction. There is much in them that parallels the spiritual basis of the 12 step programmes that began with Alcoholics Anonymous and that have been taken up by many other recovery movements. Loyola’s spiritual exercises are widely used in the many retreats offered to members of these programmes by Catholic priests and monks in some of the most beautiful monasteries and religious houses around the world. With so many families today affected by addiction, especially drug addiction and alcoholism, there must be many thousands of people who have, wittingly or unwittingly, seen their lives improved by addiction’s nemesis, Saint Ignatius Loyola.

Faye Bakhsh was strong as Inigo and although I’ve mentioned some minor criticisms further down, they should not detract from his self-effacing immersion into the character and his flawless command of the dialogue. Ignatius faced the Inquisition eight times – in Salamanca, Venice, Rome, twice in Paris and three times in Alcala. It is a sort of miracle he survived, and thank God he did. Bakhsh’s journey though this is memorable and provokes a desire to delve further into orthodox Catholic thought. I loved Simon Haycock’s frequent shirtless appearances as the godly blacksmith symbolically hammering Inigo into shape. In the dark of Lily Faith Knight’s pared-down set (what a great name for the set designer of a play with a Catholic subject btw), it was as if he sprung into the imagination from a living Renaissance painting. Apart from Bakhsh, the other actors – Elle van Knoll, Reggie Oliver, Helena Northcote, Paul Storrier and Scott Westwood – switched into different parts and different costumes throughout the performance. Shows like this never fail to leave me awed by the sheer scope of the versatility and talent that is out there. But the star performance of the night for me was Charlie Archer as Martin Loyola, Xavier, Salim and Calisto. He had a magical intensity that shone like a light from the blackness of the time.

Needless to say, the play is beautifully written by Jonathan Moore, a well-known actor who is also the director of this production. Every line, every twist and turn, deepened my understanding of the miracle that was Loyola and in turn has led, all these centuries later, to the miracle that is the present Pope. There were so many times when Inigo could have been killed, in his early years as a hot-headed swordsman, or later by the Inquisition, yet somehow he survived.

The Catholic Herald previewed the play and described how Jonathan Moore went to extraordinary lengths when writing it, even to the extent of retracing his pilgrimage across Spain. He said: “I walked from Loyola to Manresa on foot and it nearly killed me. It was part-pilgrimage, part-research, 35 days just with a backpack, just me on my own.

Moore has also studied Loyola’s work in depth. “I have followed the Spiritual Exercises six or seven times at silent retreats. When writing the play I was interested in the man who would come up with those prayers, and Ignatian spirituality generally. I’m also very interested in controversial characters, people who are prepared to take on the prevailing wisdom and fight for what they believe in, particularly if they think it’s coming from divine inspiration.

A born fighter such as Inigo would keep that fire in his spirit even after conversion, witness St Paul and Pope Francis. To take it to the next level, my tip to Bakhsh, who surely looks the part and can certainly act, would be simply to keep his mouth closed, look focused not distant, and consciously strengthen what is a rather nice jaw line when not delivering dialogue. The appearance of spiritual yearning that he might be trying to achieve simply does not convince when it comes to a conflicted, intellectual-warrior saint in the class of Ignatius of Loyola, hence my three stars and not four for this otherwise impressive production. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is a good example to model if looking for an essence that could perhaps be summed up as impassioned, even angry, humility. Attempting to rid a body of an addiction by consciously confronting denial can, over a lifetime, make a person’s inner demons, or in more Freudian terms, a person’s inner selves, very angry indeed. Loyola would have known this very early on.

3 Star Review

Review by Ruth Gledhill

What does it mean to believe in something? What does it cost?
SPAIN. Sixteenth century. The inquisition. Political hysteria. After a conversion experience, everything changes. We follow Inigo (Ignatius of Loyola) from ambitious, hot­headed, street­fighting sensualist to co-founding, with a radical group of young friends, The Society of Jesus. (The Jesuits). They were loved or hated, facing huge opposition in Rome. The current Pope is a Jesuit.

Bold, passionate, funny, entertaining and poetic, Moore’s play is not only for those who are interested in Loyola and The Jesuits. It is also an allegorical story of anyone who wants change and meets with savage opposition from any Establishment. The fine cast is drawn from actors with experience at the RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe, Almeida, West End, TV, film and radio.

Jonathan Moore (Writer and Director) is an award winning international actor, writer and director who has worked with RSC, Royal Opera, ENO, BBC, Shakespeare’s Globe, Donmar, and Almeida among many others.

25th May 2015 – 13th June 2015
Main House – Pleasance London

Friday 29th May 2015


  • Ruth Gledhill

    Ruth Gledhill, on Twitter @ruthiegledhill, contributes regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Ruth Gledhill has worked on The Times from 1987 to 2014. Before that she was a news reporter and feature writer on The Daily Mail. She wrote her first theatre review, Tennessee Williams 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', while serving indentures at The Birmingham Post & Mail. After leaving the Midlands in 1984 she decided to concentrate on news. She is delighted to be able to revive her love of writing about the stage as a critic for London Theatre. Public profile http://journalisted.com/ruth-gledhill

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