A ‘Black Visual Intonation’, in which ‘things’ are put ‘in affective proximity to one another’.
Is God Is
Royal Court (10 Sep – 23 Oct, 2021)
Review by Amanda Vilanova
A flash, fire, and thumping music kick off a relentless hour and a half in Is God Is at the Royal Court Theatre. The play follows twin sisters who receive a letter from the mother they thought was dead. A fire eighteen years before left them scarred for life and their mother horribly disfigured.
‘You ready? To see God?’
‘Well, she made us, didn’t she?’
The idea of a mother as God sticks with you after it’s uttered in the first moments of the play; it lingers in the air and fuels the events as we follow two women on a quest to avenge their ‘God’. ‘She’, their mother, played spectacularly by Cecilia Noble, sends them on a mission to enact revenge upon their father, a man they have no memory of ever meeting.
The setup seems like this is going to be a heavy watch, but this piece directed by Ola Ince is a laugh-out-loud-one-moment-and-gasp-the-next bloodbath where encounters between characters never seem to go where you think they will.
The twins Anaia (Adelayo Adedayo) and Racine (Tamara Lawrance) propel through chapter after chapter of this dark comedy, playing off each other beautifully and showing all the colours of a sibling relationship. Aleshea Harris’s punchy yet sensitive dialogue shines and the text’s theatricality sees characters playfully breaking the fourth wall. The playfulness seeps into scene changes as performers move sets labelled with scene titles across the stage in a fantastic Tarantino meets the Wild West design by Chloe Lamford.
In the second half, however, characters become increasingly cartoon-like. Angie (Vivienne Acheampong), the father’s new wife, is perhaps too much of a pained suburban housewife. Some of the fights seem to get a bit loose and the comedy doesn’t always land. The sisters, however, anchor us through this increase in stereotype and violence that some may find gratuitous. The appearance of the father, spoken about so much from the onset, does not disappoint. Mark Moreno lends the role the edge required, as ‘Man’ refuses to atone for his sins. The moment hits home in a world where so often we see men justify their acts of violence against women with a shrug and phrase like Man’s, ‘I was young.’
The production’s biggest strength is its cohesion. The conversations are witty, the action and violence unstoppable and every element of the set, sound design and direction support that. These characters say and do with such forward momentum that audience members around me whooped, clapped, and gasped throughout.
Aftermath is the only noun I can think of to describe the moments following the final line and blackout; we’ve witnessed something we are yet to grasp. Is it a tragedy, a western, a parable? A quick glance at the play text defines it as an epic. Yes, that sounds right. It is an epic piece of work that makes very bold choices. It isn’t for everyone, but it is sure to make an impact, one way or another.