Sunday, July 21

Agnes of God – Cortonwood Comeback Centre Theatre

Agnes of God is a 1979 play by American Playwright John Pielmeier which he later penned as a film script in 1985. With runs in both the West End and Broadway this play is believed to be Pielmeier’s finest. Inspired by the true story of American Maureen Murphy, a 37-year-old Nun who was found in a pool of blood after giving birth to a baby in the Our Lady of Lourdes convent in New York. Murphy, a resident of 19 years at the convent before the conception, the baby boy was originally reported missing but was later found in a garbage can. The baby’s death was logged as Asphyxiation and Murphy was later evaluated and cleared by the court as to her emotional and mental stability, to stand trial. Her criminal defence argued she was unable to comprehend her actions, due to the excessive loss of blood that she lost while giving birth. Murphy was eventually acquitted and found ‘Not guilty by Reason of Insanity’.

Operama North’s production was my first time of seeing this neo-noir mystery play with its intricate plot, stark lighting, flashbacks and underlying existentialist philosophy and is one that I will look out for again in the future. Directed by Stephen Cresswell and presented in the perfect location of a Methodist Church at Cortonwood, solidifying the religious setting of a Convent. With atmospheric music adding to the ambience the whole aesthetic of the surroundings served to add believability to the story. In this taut and compelling play, Cresswell creates a calm environment and directorial delivery to juxtapose the disturbing events and does so with great effect. This very challenging and extremely ‘wordy’ two act play has only three characters, Dr. Martha Livingstone – the psychiatrist, the Mother Superior, Miriam Ruth and Agnes, the postulant. Dr Martha covers the full gamut of emotion during the play from antagonist to nurturer, from hard court psychiatrist and atheist to faith searching healer. Her questioning forces all three women to re-examine the power of love and the meaning of faith…leading to a dramatic and compelling climax. Constantly on stage, Claire Martin plays; the no easy feat; Martha with confidence and depth. Martin did a stellar job of advancing the dialogue and delivering monologues of soul searching authenticity that made time stand still.

Cecily Rose depicts the role of Agnes, a beautiful but tormented soul whose abusive upbringing has affected her ability to think rationally. The character delivers her story mainly in flashback unlike Dr Martha who roots us in the ‘here and now’. Cecily Rose brings the innocent and ‘simple’ Agnes to the drama both verbally and aesthetically, her mannerisms are totally relevant, and the audience are drawn to her ‘questionable’ naivety and the mystery of the situation. A massive well done is needed as at very short notice and due to illness, the role of Mother Superior was covered by Production Manager Sue Martin. Martin did a superb job even though the script was open on her desk at all times, she was every inch what is expected of a Mother Superior. This unfortunate situation did not in any way distract from the flow of the play, and much praise is needed at Sue Martin’s stalwart delivery.

There we have it – three very different characters posing very different questions, this play has moments of comparison to J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls and at the interval I was creating conclusions of my own, very much in the Agatha Christie vein! A sure sign, I was engrossed, entertained and like all good theatre should do….forcing me to question myself. It made me think both during and after and it left me feeling that sometimes there isn’t a need for answers. Interesting!

I thank Operama North for my invite to the production and wholeheartedly congratulate them on a thoroughly worthwhile evening of entertainment, realisation and enlightenment. If you don’t have tickets already, I really urge you to go buy some, support local theatre and smile at what can be achieved while you question what you have witnessed. Do you believe in miracles? A wonderful evening!

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 25th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.