by Rachel Beaumont

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More blood please: Is God Is at Royal Court

Is God Is
Royal Court
Stalls A17, £17
25 September 2021
Royal Court page

It is right and good that Royal Court should stage Aleshea Harris’s Is God Is, and Ola Ince’s production is largely a force for good in the world, and the rightness and goodness are confirmed by looking around the Royal Court audience and seeing far greater diversity among my peers than I saw at, for example, the Royal Opera House, or Glyndebourne, or Hackney Empire. That said, Ince drains some of the play’s oomph and as such I enjoyed it but never cared that much. Or almost never.

I, evidently an offal nut, was lured by Royal Court’s marketing, which promised a gore-fuelled revenge-fest. As ever with marketing lures, the product does not meet the hype. Comparisons with Quentin Tarantino are ill-advised when there is literally no blood spilled. If you cry that theatre is different, let me remind you of such blood-drenched theatrical marvels as Sam Wanamaker’s The White Devil, or National Theatre’s Theatre of Blood, or indeed any production of Titus Andronicus. Blood and gore are theatre’s gift when the creators want to go there, a gleeful, technical flourish.

I can imagine a production of Harris’s play which would want to go there, and I can imagine that working a bit better. That is not Ince’s production, though. There is, if anything, a chaste avoidance of gore.The majority of murders, committed with a stone in a sock, are accompanied solely by a cartoonish ‘bonk’ sound. A character’s finger is cut off, off stage; said finger’s reappearance at the end of the play seems almost embarrassed, flashed on stage for mere seconds. Only in one of the many murders did Ince step a single toe down the gore road, when a victim croaks onto the stage with a knife sticking out his back. This I liked, and this, I suspect, is more what Harris had in mind.

There was one other moment where the production coalesced for me, and this was She’s monologue near the beginning, describing the story’s origin and establishing the motor for revenge. Celia Noble, entombed by prosthetics, gives a hypnotising performance, powerful, gothic, extreme, absurd, at once hilarious and genuinely moving. This, surely, is what the play is about: this is the modern revenge tragedy.

The rest, though, while never bad, plods unevenly, not attaining the gothic extravagance the text demands and thus falling a little flat as an overwrought melodrama scarred by some honky accents. I’m glad to have seen it, though, and as I say it’s the right thing for the Royal Court to do: while this wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it didn’t have to be.

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