Monks (3 stars)

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 7 Apr


Faith is a commodity in short supply in our society. But this doesn’t stop people from seeking it wherever they can. With the decline of religion, love has become the form of metaphysical belief of choice for many.

And it’s love, perhaps more than religious belief, which lies at the heart of Des Dillon’s new piece at the Lyceum. In it, we meet Fabian (Robin Laing), a monk complete with the permanent penance of a ball and chain, whose artless attempts to rebuild a demolished chapel at the top of an Italian mountain are constantly interrupted by seekers after miraculous cures. One of these, Suzanne (Frances Grey), needs to forget her husband, who’s abandoned her for an 18-year-old. She’s joined by Pat (Peter Kelly), an alcoholic Glasgow builder and his emotionally and psychologically unsettled mate Davy (Stephen McCole) who’ve brought Jay (Paul Thomas Hickey), whose violent sectarian past has left him catatonic. All are menaced by the local hard man Jo (Joe Montana) and a rather venal abbot (Matthew Zajac).

In Mark Thomson’s production Dillon’s character-driven morality tale emerges with a bittersweet grin and a wink at its audience, making some memorable observations on religion, love and the class divide as it progresses. Secrets emerge and the structure pairs up the characters of this fable in a manner reminiscent of the work of David Cregan. If Becky Minto’s mountaintop, replete with images of an olive tree and a coca cola sun brolly illustrating nature and its opposite, limits movement, it also adds nicely to the intelligently chipper feel. All the same, strong performances, particularly from Kelly’s radge old builder and Grey’s prim, posh wifey don’t quite overcome the flaw of a slightly overlong running time and a sudden, rather vexing ending. All the same, it’s worth keeping faith with the piece’s engaging humour.

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