★ ★ ★ ★ ★
HISTORICAL drama, based on real people and events, can be risky. There’s always the temptation to overburden a script with facts and figures, in an attempt to lend credibility to the “factional” account – or to overdramatise and ignore the truth in pursuit of a good sexy yarn. David Hall’s masterful storytelling suffers from no such failings, as it stays on the issues and focuses on the emotions of his characters.
Jean Meslier, “encouraged” into the catholic priesthood by his parents at a young age was, in fact, an atheist who had no respect for the church at that time. He spent long, late nights writing his testament – a polemic which would later partially inspire the French Revolution, and which would not be published in his lifetime. Meslier then took his own life once his testament was finished.
Hall extrapolates on these bare bones, adding depth in the form of his housekeeper and his lifelong colleague and friend, Father Claude Buffier. Julian Bird becomes Meslier. The authority with which he speaks and his presence is entirely convincing. Prentis Hancock as Buffier and Angela Koo as Meslier’s housekeeper, Delphine, effortlessly supports Bird.
Director David Roylance infuses an already intense play with a dark, fearsome claustrophobia, making it entirely compelling.