Is God Is review: The refreshing sound of a new theatrical voice

Adelayo Adedayo and Tamara Lawrance in Is God Is (©Tristram Kenton)

This is a blast – a splashy American revenge comedy with a cartoonish vibe and a high body count. Aleshea Harris’s play begins as it means to go on: 21-year-old orphaned Arkansas twins learn their mother is actually alive and wants them to kill the man who left them disfigured – and her a living cinder – in a fire 20 years ago. They should bring back blood and “treasures”. After some deliberation, they decide hers is the literal word of God: “She made us.” A hilariously savage spree in California ensues.

You can see why Harris has been compared to Tarantino and Martin McDonagh. Her script shares their gleeful brutality, but she is a completely original voice. The rhythm of her dialogue is unique. She seems to be effortlessly funny, though this sort of ‘funny’ actually takes a lot of work, from everyone involved. Though not overtly political, she’s addressing unfairness here, in all its manifestations. Of the twins, Racine (Tamara Lawrance) is considered the pretty, assertive one, because the fire ‘only’ touched her back and arms. Anaia (Adelayo Adedayo), scarred on the face, is used to eyes sliding over her, and has intimacy issues with the lover she met online.

Director Ola Ince and designer Chloe Lamford embrace the play’s exaggerated universe, staging scenes against flat backdrops, often with captions, and a soundtrack that ranges from opera to rap to spaghetti western whistling. Some of the action takes place in a Wendy house that the actors manually turn on stage.

Is God Is at the Royal Court (Tristram Kenton)

Lawrance and Adedayo are superb as the twins, convincing in their shared tics, childhood tropes and insults, and driving the action along with a hectic, irrational energy. And all should bow down to Cecilia Noble. Always riveting, she commands the stage here while inert, whispering and covered in lesions as their mother.

Ray Emmet Brown has fun as a burnt-out lawyer narrating his own demise. Mark Monero’s villain, long anticipated and finally unveiled, is a cruel, gaslighting monster, but Harris shows us his attempts at self-justification. Newcomers Ernest Kingsley Jr and Rudolphe Mdlongwa, are also remarkably good, but to explain their roles – or that of a furious, manicured Vivienne Acheampong – would spoil things.

(Tristram Kenton)

The pace sags two thirds of the way through and you sense Harris searching for direction before she gets triumphantly into her stride again. For some, this will be too glib in its depiction of male and (retaliatory) female violence, too slangy, too arch in the way it plays with theatrical convention. For me, it’s the refreshing, startling sound of a new theatrical voice, delivered with gusto by Ince and her team.

Royal Court, until 23 Oct, royalcourttheatre.com

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