Sunday, February 05, 2023

A Farther Shore – an old tale with a modern message (4 Corners Festival and Bright Umbrella, 15-18 February)

A Farther Shore retells the well-known story of Peter the Apostle, a fisherman by family trade who becomes a disciple of the “hill country carpenter” turned Jewish preacher Jesus of Nazareth. It follows the journey of the man who harvests the Sea of Galilee, showing great faith and much weaker faith as he becomes a “fisher of men and women”. After Jesus’ death, Peter becomes the leader of the early Christian Church. That much is familiar.

Glenn McGivern takes on playwright David Campton’s hour-long monologue in which Peter reflects on his life. You can almost smell the salt and the fish guts from the set that is strewn with nets, pots, ropes and bright plastic buoys. Peter may have lived two thousand years ago, but the modern-day setting (and Ulster Scots accent) suggests a more universal and contemporary truth in Campton’s writing. Lesser-known details are woven into the story, keeping even the most Biblically literate audience members on their toes.

McGivern demonstrates both a mastery of the weighty script and his adept understanding of the characterisation. Trevor Gills’ direction elevates the patterns that run through Peter’s thinking. Campton relishes the foreshadowing and parallels between the prophet Jonah (also the name given to Peter’s father in this play) and Jesus, as well as highlighting the parallels of seagoing and levels of adherence to heavenly commands between Jonah and Peter.

A Farther Shore explores the mystery of belief, stepping out in faith, tripping up in doubt, forgiveness and second chances. An interstitial duet (Philippa O’Hara/Trevor Gill) sits between the two acts (pre- and post-Ascension), dragging the audience back from Joppa/Jaffe to hint at the work of the ‘Apostle of Ireland’, St Patrick. The repetition of the phrase “do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (from Acts 10:15) throughout the play reminds today’s church that Peter encountered the Holy Spirit working in lives he hadn’t expected to be ‘inside the tent’ and realised that inclusion and welcome are meant to trump purity and piety.

An additional layer of meaning comes from the production’s venue: an old church that has recently been handed over to the Bright Umbrella Drama Co. on a fifty year lease. Fergus Wachala-Kelly’s black and white hand-drawn animations illustrate key moments in the narrative, though they would have more effect if the imagery lingered longer on screen and didn’t vanish from view so abruptly. Something that can be addressed during the rest of the run. And it’s always good to see George Spelvin’s contribution being publicly acknowledged in the programme!

Premiered on the penultimate day of the 4 Corners Festival 2023, A Farther Shore returns to the Sanctuary Theatre (1a Castlereagh Street) for another five performances between Wednesday 15–Saturday 18 February. And the theatre company would welcome opportunities to take the portable production to other venues, churches or organisations.

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