“I know we have a certain amount of dirty laundry in this family, but is it really necessary to keep on washing it so publicly?”
Robin Soans’ new play for the Bush Theatre takes a little time to get where it is going but by the time it arrives at its destination, it has gathered into something really rather moving. Perseverance Drive opens in Barbados as the Gillards come together to bury their matriarch Grace. Pentecostal pastor Eli heads up a deeply religious family but not one that is close – one of his sons Joshua has been exiled for being gay, and Nathan and Zek who are both ministers as well have splintered into opposing factions of the church.
Their battles are endless – who will get to speak the eulogy, what will happen to their mother’s soul etc etc and though the gospel-inflected ambience created in Madani Younis’ production is powerful, this opening half is a little too static for its own good. Fortunately, after the interval the energy shifts subtly to become much more affecting. It is four years later and now it is Eli’s turn to die in the somewhat less tropical surroundings of a run-down Leytonstone flat but as he slowly shuffles closer to the end of his mortal coil, it is clear that little has really changed.
Nathan and Zek have wives now but still obstinately pursue their opposing takes on how faith should be practised, whilst neglecting to actually fulfil their own definitions and in moving no closer, fail to realise how they are alienating their wider family too. Instead it is Clint Dyer’s Joshua who is caring most for Leo Wringer’s gruff Eli, a small hint of reconciliation that grows slowly but surely to suggest perhaps that it is never too late to forgive. Soans defines the brothers a little too strongly here, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides a tad schematic for their own good in all honesty.
But there’s something in the way he presents religion on the stage, something that we don’t see too often, in the depiction of the power of faith both as a positive force and a negative one, depending on how it is wielded by those who possess it and for what means. With strong support coming too from Franc Ashman and Akiya Henry as the contrasting wives and Ray Shell’s hilariously pretentious bishop, Perseverance Drive proved well worth persevering with.