Bag of Beard’s new production, set in the future of government dictatorship and religious suppression, is a strange beast.
In The Messiah Complex, nothing is as it seems, not even the opening scene, which seems to suggest Sethian has made a fateful decision which has left him caged and needing to be ‘cured’.
As you walk in, the Anthony Newley song ‘Why’ is played on a loop. Sethian (Anthony Cozens) seems in a state somewhere between grace and distress. It’s a sinister use of a familiar tune, a light love song set to chill.
As the script (a group affair by co-directors Alexander Knott, James Demaine and Ryan Hutton, with additional devising by the company) progresses, we move from THEN in a regular room to NOW in what appears to be a hospital.
The Nurse (Sasha Clarke) is fully on board with a regime behind book-burning and suppression, gadgets which blank out memories and prevent dreams, and which justify the slaughter of any enemy to prevent wars.
I found the scenes between the non-nonsense Nurse and Sethian a little more effective than the scenes from the past with the seductive and persuasive Sophie (AK Golding).
Those scenes are curious and eventually horrific, but they seem to be drawing back from really focusing on the fear of being found out and the pull of faith that may lead to catastrophe.
For me, The Messiah Complex left me both full of questions and scratching my head. I liked the video work and the uneasy atmosphere, but didn’t quite connect with the work as a whole.
Running at seventy minutes, it does make the most of its time, and this third version of the play, which started as a short piece in 2016, mixes the absurd and the political with great style.
The Messiah Complex runs until 19 Mar at the Network Theatre as part of the Vault Festival – tickets here. For more on Bag of Beard, go here..
Photo credit: Charles Flint Photography