REVIEW “Hand to God” At the Alex Theatre

“It’s a new take on the style, a new version of the subversion, a new generation of philosophical cynicism to hold a new world of extremism to scrutiny.”

Having made its debut on Broadway, “Hand to God” is one of those obscure stories of a script’s runaway success. It rocked New York City’s audiences, and Whitbread, along with Aleksander Vass, had to bring it to us. What we saw was indeed a powerful script, though not necessarily in the dramatic sense.

Let’s face it Christianity, and southern-style Christianity at that, is no stranger to parody. From Ned Flanders to the 2015 film “Brimstone”, the apocalyptic evangelism and repressed nature go hand in hand with the accents of the Bible Belt all the way from comedy to full-blown horror. While “Hand to God” is nothing new in that sense, the ingenious writing makes it all feel fresh and new, and therefore risqué, all over again. It’s a new take on the style, a new version of the subversion, a new generation of philosophical cynicism to hold a new world of extremism to scrutiny.

The underlying themes of mental illness being exacerbated, rather than tempered, by association with the church, and the explosive volatility repression lends so easily to frustration and sexuality, are thinly veiled beneath a genuinely funny series of highly unusual events, which in short sees a repressed young man’s hand puppet
becoming possessed by what might be his own psychosis; but may be the devil as well.

Gyton Grantley does a fantastic job for someone who has never dabbled in puppetry before. Tyrone takes on an interesting life of his own, however, it must be said that a lack of due rehearsal time was evident in his human character Jason’s relationship with Alison Whyte’s Margery…but the experienced cast did a fine job with what they had, under the ambitious direction of Gary Abrahams. Of particular note is Grant Piro’s Pastor Greg, well developed and intimately delivered character. However, everyone is well out of anyone’s standard comfort zone here, and all must be applauded for their courage and
commitment to the bizarre but brilliant scenarios demanded of them by this magnificent piece of writing. Morgana O’Reilly was particularly brave, and it takes some moxie to get up there and play a part so regarded by the rest of the cast, without giving too much away.

Jacob Battista’s set designs were fantastic, and a multi-stage play managed to run from beginning to end without one scene change, due to inspired direction and planning.
“Hand to God” is a risky piece to stage, especially in today’s social environment, and risk is exactly the foundation of what’s missing from Australia’s stages and screens. If it can be married to disciplined, intimate performances and rehearsal schedules accommodating to the work required to achieve them, then we have a bright future indeed.

Review by: Max Davine

Pictured: Gyton Grantley

Photography: Angel Leggas, 3 Fates Media

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