I was around 10 when I saw my first play. It was a production of "12 Angry Men" in Dublin while visiting family. I don't remember why that play was chosen – maybe it was just the only one that was showing. I don't remember the reason behind going to see a play. What I do remember is being so entertained with people just sitting on a stage and talking. The thing that live theatre, particularly independent and lower-budget productions, have to offer an audience is the assurance that if you invest the time, you will be entertained. "Catherine At Avignon," produced by Subtlenuance, is like that production of "12 Angry Men," not in content – it couldn't be more different. It is similar in that I was drawn into the inner lives of these characters. It will be a production I remember for a long time.
Written and directed by Paul Gilchrist, "Catherine at Avignon" has a Shakespearean quality to the writing. The story is told through conversation, often describing actions rather than showing. This is a strength for the show, allowing the cast to truly shine in their roles. The production is an example of well-executed simplicity in the costuming and stagecraft. All of the elements help to set the scene, but Gilchrist has composed a piece that gives the actors a lot to work with. The play is perfect for the intimate nature of the Meraki Arts Bar's performance space. Gilchrist has included fantastic use of meta-theatrical elements to really help keep the audience engaged.
The cast id stacked with talent, led by Shawnee Jones who plays the titular character. She is fantastic as the stoic and serious Catherine. Jones radiates strength and warmth and commands the space. It is really easy to lose the audience when you start a character with low energy and let it build, but Jones does a great job of slowly letting us into Catherine's inner world and she becomes fully realised before your very eyes. Jones often plays against John Michael Narres as Raymond. These two performers have a wonderful rapport from their first scene which is important for the emotional punch that is the plays ending. Narres does a great job of balancing the comedy and the earnestness required from the character and shines in the closing moments of the play.
In what I honestly mean as high praise, Shaw Cameron as Cardinal De Courville reminds me of Cary Elwes. The RP English accent, the physicality, and the smug demeanor – it all works out brilliantly. This is even more impressive when Cameron is acting as the rough-as-guts player 2. These two characters are opposite ends of the spectrum, and Cameron's switch between them is so good that you are never in doubt which character is existing on stage. This sentiment is equally true of Richard Cotter, who plays Pope Gregory and Player 1. The ability to oscillate between the outlandish and gentle is really impressive. In one really impressive moment, both Cameron and Cotter transition from one character to another before your eyes. This is done masterfully and is a wonderful moment to reflect on the role of performance and the performance we do in our lives.
Romney Hamilton and Rosie Meader play Marguerite and Eloise respectively, and their characters are a really poignant reflection on power dynamics and systems of oppression. Narratively, these women are pitted against each other, in a sense, as they represent the start and end of a journey that begins and ends with a removal of autonomy. Hamilton plays a woman who has lost so much of her innocence that she is jaded, cynical, and self-serving. Based on the choices made by Hamilton, you get a sense that Marguerite is a woman desperate to survive. Meader, on the other hand, shows Eloise. At first demure and impressionable, she gains an edge and becomes cunning, having felt betrayed and ready to play the game as it were. The story of these women and their relation really captured my imagination and is something I found myself thinking about as I left the theatre. If I had any criticism of the piece, it was that I wished more time was devoted to exploring this. However, perhaps the reason I think this was because of the fine performances of Hamilton and Meader.
"Catherine At Avignon" is a big play with a lot happening and a runtime of around 2 hours, including an intermission. This show is everything that is great about independent theatre. Give them a stage and some time, and they will take you on a journey. I give Subtlenuance's production of "Catherine At Avignon" 4 pieces of a saint out of 5.