tue 04/08/2020

First Person: Gotta Have Faith? | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: Gotta Have Faith?

First Person: Gotta Have Faith?

Playwright Robin Soans introduces his drama about a family divided by faith

Robin Soans in rehearsal for 'Perseverance Drive'

A still Sunday morning in late October… the sky monotone grey… my friend and I are on a fact-finding mission in Jackson, Mississippi. We drive to the outskirts of the city, take a left onto Hanging Moss Road, and see ahead of us, in isolation among the pines, the Word and Worship church where Bishop Jeffrey Stallworth will be conducting morning service. For the next two hours I listen to the words and music which will, five years later, form the basis of my thinking for Perseverance Drive.

The two most vivid memories of that service were the preaching, which struck me as being retrogressive and unenlightening: if something goes wrong, if you meet oppression and racial inequality, don’t unite in trying to fix it, thank the Lord it isn’t worse, put up and shut up, and you will get your reward in the next world. On the other hand the combination of the prayer and music - the music was truly soul-stirring - inspired that congregation to leave the church with fresh courage, and a determination to cope with whatever life threw at them.

Moral outrage has been devalued, because everyone cites it as the springboard for their actions

It was this apparent contradiction that set me thinking about the clash of ideas centred round the issue of faith, and when I met a man in London whose family had been split apart by difference of religious opinion or lack of it, I had found the means of expressing these ideas in dramatic form. I am not interested in taking sides. One thing I have learned over years of writing plays on contentious issues is that, for it to be worthwhile, you have to write as well for the people whose views you find offensive as the people who broadly espouse the same opinion as your own. What really interests me is when people with opposing but valid reasons for their actions meet head on. The resulting car crash spawns matters for debate.

Perseverance Drive is not a verbatim play, but it is as meticulously researched and detailed as my other plays. I try to avoid going into a new area with preconceived ideas or a fixed agenda… people will constantly surprise you, and like all of us, be a mass of contradictions. In paddling around in that mess of vulnerability we may learn something about the complexity of the human condition and, hopefully, be set thinking in a more liberal fashion about issues that appear one-sided.

We in the United Kingdom live in one of the most secular societies in the world, and many of us cite religion, or organised religion, as being the cause of contention, violence, and an excuse for atrocious behaviour. Moral outrage as a currency has been devalued, because everyone cites it as the springboard for their actions, whether berating the extremists for their carnage, or big business and politicians for their retaliation, which usually comes in the form of blatant empire building. In both cases faith is viewed with cynicism, as it is clearly only a thin veneer of righteousness covering a thick block of political, personal or economic ambition. And scriptures which were written thousands of years ago are given a convenient interpretation to justify actions in the modern world.

Meanwhile our home-grown religious movements are seen as flabby and ineffectual, spending more time in internal debate on the role of women and homosexuals in the church than actually doing anything about spreading the word of Christ in a meaningful fashion. The church comes across as a place of respectability as opposed to morality, where the militancy of Christ’s preaching has got lost in a welter of flower arranging, brass rubbing, and polishing of pews, and sits like an obedient poodle at the heels of the establishment.

All these ideas are swilling about in my mind, but you can’t plonk them down on the page. You have to find a metaphor, and my metaphor is a rolling family saga with its attendant humour and drama where these issues lurk like predatory fish just below the surface, and will hopefully cause the audience to leave the theatre with a little more understanding of the place of faith in our society than when they arrived.

You have to write as well for the people whose views you find offensive as the people who broadly espouse the same opinion as your own

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