Review: Assumption by Simon Turley, Colchester Mercury until June 11.

Assumption by Simon Turley, Colchester Mercury until June 11.

‘I’m looking for an angel, but angels are so few’, an old tune once crooned. Well, the one that puts Gabriella in the family way is a pretty rare sort, sometimes a man, more often a woman and, to say the least, a bit confusing for a young girl in a small Irish village back in the Fifties.

In a smart dark suit the male incarnation sweeps her off her feet at the local dance. ‘He just stood there and looked right into me; he never opened his mouth, except to kiss me and whoosh, a revelation,’ she tells her friend Anna. But there had been no romp in the hay, no original sin.

Later, in female form, the angel returns, sinking gently out of the sky all in white, complete with wings and halo and, true to her sex, talking like mad. She even lets slip the odd swear word. But only Gabriella can see her and, a bright girl, she’s aware that nobody is going to believe her condition occurred any way other than in the usual fashion.

Certainly not Father Farrell at the local church or her mother who is so good that she only tells little lies so she’s got something to admit at confession. Gabriella is not best pleased about her immaculate conception. Why me, she asks, but gets no satisfactory answers.

This is a story that combines, on the author’s admission, elements of the Nativity and the movie, The Magdalene Sisters, about the dubious role played by some holy orders in dealing with illegitimate children.

And, to avoid involving her mother in an unbearable local scandal, Gabriella ends up in the hands of the merciless Reverend Mother at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy – a dry dock, a place for repairs to sinners, she says, sending the girl to the laundry where ‘we’ll soon make those nice white hands all red.’

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It is a tale with dark moments but also poignant, often very funny, irreverent and, under Dee Evans’ direction, delightfully tongue in cheek. And the ending puts the answer to Gabriella’s predicament firmly in the audience’s lap.

It’s all played out on a simple open stage but brilliantly assisted by a backdrop with sliding shutters, vertical and horizontal, with sharp colours to produce shapes, windows and doors that people can step through. It all works a treat.

The cast of five women comfortably play the two male characters as well as the women and there’s a confident, touching Gabriella from Emily Woodward and lovingly controlled mother from Christine Absalom. Amanda Haberland floats nicely as the angel, Gillian Cally gives the Reverend Mother a fine edge of venom and Nadia Morgan is the good friend who produces a baby in the normal way.

David Henshall.

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