Agnes of God

24 August – 1 September 2017, Waipukurau Little Theatre
A play by John Pielmeier
Directed by Emma Walker
Cast: Julie Hales; Denise Lahood; Holly Agnes

I have two confessions: I love this theatre – a community theatre of the finest calibre – and secondly, when I sit down, when the day is done and I stop the busy race, I fall asleep. I’m very good at it. Sleeping. So it was with some trepidation that I headed out last night. The air was bracing and my breath sat easily on the night air. We arrived in good time but already the theatre was full and we greeted and hugged our way to our assigned seats. Front row. Not a good place for a sleeper.

The set lay simple and sparse waiting for us to settle and the time to tick. Stage light fell on a single chair. On cue, an expectant hush fell on the audience, classical music drifted on to the stage, beautiful, pulling us in. I had my notepad ready, my pen was clicked, chewing gum – eyelid-jolting peppermint extra – lay comfortingly in my bag.

I did write on my little white pad. I jotted things like, ‘Great set’, ‘Sound and lighting perfect!’, ‘Wonderfully directed,’ etc. I wrote about the characterization and the dialogue. I must have jotted for, oh about, let’s see, hmmm, maybe three minutes and then I couldn’t write anymore. Three women on the stage, three extraordinary, brilliantly cast women took this timeless, punch-in-the-guts script and socked it to us. I didn’t have to write anything down. I wasn’t going to be forgetting this performance for a very long time. That chewing gum would be staying right where it was and my eyes would be riveted and awake right to the very last moment when I would be standing to give them the ovation they deserved.

At a basic level this play is a murder-mystery, who-dunnit and on a profound level it is, for me, about the effects of childhood, of generational dysfunction, the power of survival and how far that can take us from accepted societal norm. It is about love and and deep grief. It is a well written, demanding play with a few lighter moments to give the audience occasional breaks.

First time (first time!!!) director Emma Walker has, with the support of cast and crew, lighting and sound, produced a tour de force, a seamless rollercoaster of brilliant direction where she has taken three actors – two seasoned and one new – and thrown them right at our hearts. They had us in the palms of their hands and we wanted to be there.

Julie Hales, as Mother Superior, has graced our Central Hawke’s Bay stages for many years. She is the kind of actor you know could foot it with any professional company anywhere. She is world class. Her portrayal of the protective Mother Superior was beautifully drawn. Every look, every movement, every word gave the character truth. Julie was Mother Superior. If needed she could carry this play but she didn’t need to.

Denise Lahood is no stranger to the Little Theatre. Her portrayal of the psychiatrist Doctor Martha Livingston was both aggressive and tender. You felt her performance; you believed in and felt for her character. The slide between gentleness and empathy for Agnes; challenge, despair, apology and anger for Mother Superior and her character’s own self doubt and vulnerability highlighted this actors extraordinary talent.

Holly Waldrom, a year 13 pupil at Central Hawke’s Bay College played Agnes with grace and power. She was translucent on stage. Her performance of the vulnerable Agnes was so believable; you were with her right on that edge of sanity. She was not someone you could take your eyes off.

Agnes of God is not a play you would consider without having all the parts in place, a fine and sensitive director, quality actors, the lighting, the sound, the backstage crew, the support from sponsors and community. This play deserves full houses every night. Thank you to all concerned for the hours and hours that you have put in to bring us such a quality experience.

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