Review: Suffragette Theatre Company’s ‘Immaculate’

Any criticism of Suffragette Theatre Company’s ‘Immaculate’ should be (and here I quote James Barber’s Lucifer) shoved up your ‘big fat fucking angel anus’. Directed by Emily Browning, and assisted by Katie Procter and Charlotte Aspden, the cast of six wowed the audience with their intricately created characters, projecting both effervescent humour and the issues of female agency at the play’s core.

The play follows Mia, who wakes up six months pregnant, despite having not had sex for almost a year. Hilarity, confusion and chaos ensues as three men, two of whom being the Angel Gabriel and Lucifer, claim that they are responsible for the conception.

Immediately upon entering Arlington House, the set (designed by Alice Kane) conjured the image of Mia, portrayed masterfully by Eleanor Sumner. Strewn with Tampax boxes, works of feminist literature, and Batiste dry shampoo, the audience immediately placed Mia as a woman in her mid-twenties: confident, single, and self-assured. The seeming naturalism of the set is immediately juxtaposed by entrance of Alexander Bitter (Gabriel), Alex Davies (Michael), James Barber (Lucifer), and Juliette Willis (Rebecca). Adorned in black masks, they immediately assert their positions as a Greek chorus-esque ensemble, speaking in rhyming couplets, underscored by dramatic music. They delight in their physical sequences and their purposefully anthemic choral speaking.

Eleanor Sumner’s subsequent entrance is immediately enrapturing, captivating the audience in her agitated portrayal of the moments following the taking of a pregnancy test (feelings recognised by many members of the audience). Her pink pinstriped pyjamas curates a picture of youth and innocence, contrasted by her later confession that she works as a dominatrix – as she adorned herself in thigh high black boots, upon the entrance of Bittar’s Gabriel, who she believes to be a client (perhaps the one who pays ‘five hundred pounds to come in [her] hair’). Bittar is an instant hit. His facial expressions are hilarious. His physicality is perfectly curated to portray innocence and disgust. And his anxious portrayal of Gabriel’s desire for order serves as an impeccable contrast to Sumner who, underscored by the thumping of Black Eyed Peas’ ‘My Humps’, dons her whip in an attempt to seduce.

These first scenes immediately demonstrate the incredible theatrical talent of each cast member, and Emily Browning’s direction should be applauded. Successfully combining naturalistic and non-naturalistic elements in a way that did not feel forced: the use of music and comedy felt not as an afterthought, but as highly developed, considered choices that were integral to the telling of Mia’s story. As the play progressed, each actor’s portrayal remained consistently fantastic. Davies’ Michael was simply brilliant. He curated the perfect picture of a petulant, obsessive and immature ex, still plagued by his feelings for Mia. I truly believed he is the kind of man who ‘whistles in his sleep’ due to his ‘sinus issues’. This effect was aided tenfold by his fantastic physicality, jumping and whining like a small child when arguing with Mia, widening his eyes at his discovery that Mia ‘shagged Gary Goodman’, and laying exasperatedly on the beanbag when hearing Mia’s explanation of events.

The contrasting characters of Barber’s Lucifer and Bittar’s Gabriel worked in imperfectly perfect harmony. Barber’s suave, charming, yet incredibly exasperating Lucifer, juxtaposed Bittar’s anxious, committed, and confused Gabriel just as fantastically through their physicality as through Athena Kent-Egan’s costume design. Their parallel soliloquies are performed excellently by both, curating comedy whilst simultaneously questioning some of the ideals of modern religious thought, imploring us to question: ‘why do we see Satan as the bad guy?’ and ‘does Gabriel really need wings?’. They worked in cahoots in the background of scenes, giggling feverishly and reacting perfectly to revelations playing out between Mia and Rebecca. Although, I would say, that in some of these moments, due to the traverse staging of the space, sightlines were blocked by the two – but even these were only momentary.

Juliette Willis plays Rebecca, the baby-hating, anti-oxidant-concerned, ex-boyfriend-shagging best friend of Mia with ease. A particular directorial choice I enjoyed came in the use of pre-recorded sound to depict Mia’s internal monologue, whilst chaotic, physical comedy unfolded between Mia and all her potential baby daddies in the background. Willis’ use of thoughtful facial expression insinuated her frustration and self-concerned nature fantastically. Alfie Cook’s Gary Goodman is somehow, despite his seedy nature, a joy to watch. His voice is perfectly adapted to suit Gary’s character, and his physicality is enough to make the audience flinch in second-hand embarrassment. We can see why Davies and Willis were so shocked when they discovered that Mia did indeed ‘shag Gary Goodman’.

The highlight for me, however, was in Sumner’s Mia. Her comedic timing is second to none. Her physicality somehow amalgamated both her position as a youthful dominatrix and a woman six months pregnant; and her facial expressions compounded upon her performance of Lansley’s text brilliantly. In one of the play’s penultimate scenes, Mia laments upon female agency throughout history, and Sumner, in a stark contrast to her earlier hilarity, presents Mia’s indignation and frustration with a thoughtful compassion. Lansley’s script, I felt, lent itself to an overly prophetic, preaching portrayal – but I was glad that Sumner avoided this, instead portraying Mia with an acute sensitivity.

I entered with high expectations, and these expectations were met in their entirety. This production is a smash hit, leaving the audience reveling in laughter, whilst genuinely questioning ideals surrounding religious ‘salvation’ and female choice. This cast and crew deserve immense commendation on what is a masterful performance, highlighting the creativity, ability, and sensitivity of all involved.

‘Immaculate’ is being performed at Alington House from 30th Nov-2nd December. Doors open at 7pm, for a 7:30pm start.

Featured image: Suffragette Theatre Company

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