Tiffany Black reviews
The initial set up of Miracle Material was interesting: setting characters with polarized views on religion and faith against one another in a small university town in a modern day setting, offered plenty to explore for Alicia Schultz. Nat (Adam Spencer) lights a candle, performing what he, and some others, calls a miracle. Aiden, Nat’s best friend, took the helm on the view that Nat’s lighting of the candle was simply a trick, a publicity joy ride. Aiden, performed by Olli Gilford, was a stand out performance, equal parts funny and convincing. His relative disdain for faith was set against the earnest belief of Helen (Sophie Samuda), another of Nat’s friends, who believed he had performed a miracle. The religious angle was given particular heart by Jack Briggs, the conflicted priest whose monologue, despite differing in tone wildly to the rest of the piece, drew goosebumps. The showmen of the play, performed by Ash Watkins and Tara Cassano, must also be mentioned for sparkling in their insincerity; they were joyful characters to behold.
We were immediately immersed into the ecclesiastical setting of the play. A small raised stage with a lectern and clever use of a gobo projected the outline of a stained glass window against the wall as choral music played set the scene well. Clever technical moments were interspersed throughout the play, and the decision to opt for a minimalist set made moments such as the use of strobe lighting to create the impression of camera flashes at a press conference particularly effective.
However, certain plot lines, such as the relationships between Rowena (Alice Gold) and Helen, and Alan (Peter Simpson) and Marvelo (Ash Watkins) were never really given enough time to allow the audience to invest in their chemistry, thus they seemed slightly irrelevant and detracting from the plot. Occasional lengthy expositions where the characters explained themselves and their view on the situation verged on spoon-feeding, which the audience did not need after the battle like sequence of opposing views in the chat show scene. This led to an overall loss of momentum in the piece, worsened by clunky scene changes as a result of the elevated stage – probably an unavoidable consequence of the staging choice.
The whole crux of the show was whether or not Nat really did perform a miracle, and whether by the end of the play the audience cared if he had. The boundless energy of the actors made us inclined to care, despite the show being a bit too long. The culmination of the piece, the discovery that Nat had in fact suffered from some kind of mental break down, making him not a liar or some kind of messiah, but a victim of mental health, was a very interesting twist. However, the rushed nature of this realisation, particularly in the sudden change in viewpoint of Helen Menors, who seemed to immediately realise Nat’s lack of sanity rather than mirroring the confusion and surprise (which the audience felt), meant we lacked a guide to this revelation. It seemed almost as if the writer apologised for this turn, when in fact it was a very interesting way to end the show.
Despite slight issues with garbled lines, dispensed with after the initial nerves, and a slight lack of momentum leading to the culmination of the play, it was a very enjoyable night, with genuinely funny and heartfelt moments. Those involved should be commended, and I look forward to further productions by the Shultz team.