Wednesday, 31 July 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Holy Sh*t - The King's Arms Theatre, Salford

Brick Fox Theatre, made up of students and alumni from Royal Holloway, University of London, took Holy Sh*t to the Edinburgh Fringe last year, where it was a sell-out success. For a debut of this particular play, there could have hardly been a more appropriate city; the stomping ground of the original 'cash for bodies' crooks, Burke and Hare. The difference is that this duo actually murdered their victim and their motivation was pure, selfish greed. In Holy Sh*t, the bodysnatchers are working priests, trying to save their dwindling church which is in serious need of repair.

Holy Sh*t ‘digs up’ various questions centred round morality, belief and motivation. Fathers George Hobbs and Charlie Moss in their own respective ways are essentially good, well-meaning people who find themselves in a difficult situation. Aside from whether they really should be selling the bodies of people they’ve already buried, the different theologies of the priests are explored which whilst not necessarily in conflict, certainly offer different approaches to both faith and getting more worldly affairs done. This certainly chimes with the reality of the church in general, with so many issues still unresolved from gay marriage to inter-faith services or even whether and to what extent swearing is permissible. There is a cynical realism to Holy Sh*t behind the comedy.

For a one-hour fringe show, Holy Sh*t has a large cast of seven, enabling plenty of other characters to appear in the story. All the characters are well drawn, contrasting with each other well, although it does seem a little incongruous that the investigating policewoman has a strong American accent (presumably the actor in question being American). The story is well plotted, moving steadily to a dramatic climax as the priests find a number of unintended consequences steadily developing from their initial foray into the dead-body market.

There are many funny moments, including certain sequences which are reminiscent of Monty Python (think of the haggling scene in The Life Of Brian). Other aspects of the plot are quite simply surreal; a priest who has a sexual crush on Angela Merkel, for heaven’s sake? However, whilst the play succeeds as a black comedy, there is a feeling that this is still to an extent a work-in-progress because there is scope to mine a lot more comedy from both the characters and the story. With such a large cast, the script sometimes seems a bit laboured and would benefit from either some tighter writing or a reduction in the number of the actors (the bodies of those removed then presumably being sold off by the remaining cast).

Holy Sh*t is a funny play with a conclusion that is worth waiting for and contains a lot of black humour which is well delivered. There is scope to make it funnier still but it is nonetheless recommended as a show to catch in Edinburgh if you missed it in the Manchester Fringe

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 30/7/19

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