The Gate Theatre‘s The Christians, directed by Christopher Haydon, is set in one of those great American churches that survive on the donations of the faithful, while sustaining them through their trials and tribulations.
In his opening sermon, Pastor Paul (William Gaminara) offers a progressive, enlightened Christianity that even non-believers might appreciate. It’s a Christianity in which there is no Hell, and in which non-Christians are not eternally damned. But in unveiling this new direction, he neglects to realise how many of the congregation appreciate the certainties of Heaven and Hell. Some people’s journeys in faith (including that of his own Associate Pastor Joshua) have not been so easy that they can afford to dabble in intellectual thought experiments, and the finer points of Hebrew translations. Nor, as we find out, are the intentions behind Paul’s sermons at all times theological.
It’s pleasing to see a play that treats Christianity with intellectual curiosity and a lack of condescension, especially during the Fringe when atheism is the assumed default position of audiences. Discussion of doctrinal differences might not be to all tastes, but it’s worthy of exploration and allows for an alternative to the typical modern characterisation of Christians as retrograde fools.
Spiritual music is provided throughout by the Song Works choir. It’s a nice touch and sets the right atmosphere, but short bursts, more often, might be more effective. The mode of presentation also shifts awkwardly. It’s not always clear when we’re in an actual service, with us as the congregation, and when we’re mere observers of a backroom discussion. Sometimes it’s addressed directly at us, sometimes it’s more like a radio play.
The subject matter is an inherently interesting one though and has been approached well. Gaminara entirely convinces as Paul, displaying wisdom and kindliness. It’s almost too easy to side with him, even when it’s not certain we are supposed to. The play’s ending is a finely balanced non-resolution, and ought to leave an audience introspecting on their own beliefs and life circumstances.