Redemption, written by Anthony Crowley and directed by Petra Kalive, has scarcely been more timely. Coming just weeks after Spotlight’s Oscar’s win and in the midst of widespread controversy and outrage over George Pell and the Royal Commission, Redemption seeks to explore child abuse in the Catholic Church through the relationship between two priests. Ben (played by Crowley), a popular young priest who listens to Justin Bieber and swears liberally, has been sent to investigate allegations made against a retired Monsignor. The night before his interview with the accused he visits his one-time mentor Terry (Tom Considine), an old fashioned man who takes a significantly different approach to the allegations than the righteous anger of his former protégé. You can see straight away where this is going; past vs future, forgiveness vs justice, old vs new. It’s the conflict between those who want to brush the appalling behaviour of the Catholic Church under the carpet and those who want them held accountable. Or at least, it sort of is.
Redemption is a great premise for a one act drama, and at times it works. Certain twists and reveals in the second half have some impact and the central theme of when to forgive and when not to is a compelling one. However, despite its short duration, Redemption takes an awfully long time to get into the meat of its story. I don’t think any real debate starts until about halfway through; prior to that we’re occasionally teased with the kind of barbed comments that should start a confrontation, but the script chooses to follow these with non-sequiturs and weird dialogue cul-de-sacs, responding to veiled accusations or suggestions with subject changing. Is this meant to reflect denial or avoidance of discussion? Sure, and if frustration was the aim it certainly achieves it, but it doesn’t make for compelling drama.
Compounding this is the choice to repeat certain lines over and over again in different contexts, or often just when the character seem to have nothing else to say. In some cases these lines take on a new and powerful significance as more about the characters is revealed, in others it’s just annoying. The separation of a local couple in the parish is mentioned so many times by Terry that by what felt like the hundredth instance I was rolling my eyes, silently begging the script and characters to just get on with it. Many times it felt like the play was blatantly avoiding exploring the very issues that it purported to be about; perhaps this was meant to heighten the tension, but ultimately all it resulted in was a feeling of frustration.
When the themes finally come, they are compelling, and the dialogue, when it is actually engaging with the subject matter, is effective. There’s a strong indictment of the value of forgiveness here, and Redemption calls to task the idea that anyone, least of all priests themselves, could seek penance from the Church, say their Hail Marys, and be absolved when their crimes are this appalling. The play is at its best when it allows its righteous anger to come out in full force, however the impact is still weakened by the slog that it was to get to that point.
Tom Considine is excellent as Terry, making a character who represents the ignorance toward some terrible wrongdoings somehow likable and charismatic, meaning that the big reveals, when they come, hit hard. Anthony Crowley is convincing when playing Ben as a driven crusader determined to call the church to task, but his more passionate scenes tend to spill into overacting and ergo moments that should have been powerful verge on cringe-worthy.
Redemption is a good looking production; the set and lighting are simple and effective and heavy smoke in the air from the start creates a sense of obscuration which suits the show well, but it can’t paper over the fact that the play takes far too long to get moving and even the most effective moments are tucked away among repetitive and circulatory dialogue and often weakened by hysterics in performances when subtlety might have hit harder. Ultimately what Redemption has to talk about is powerful enough to make it feel somewhat relevant and worthwhile, but the inconsistency in tension and pace hamstrings the drama, meaning that the play never quite becomes as satisfying as it could have been.