Review: Faith Machine

The faith Machine Royal Court Theatre Sloane Square 4/5

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Faith Machine is a post-modern evaluation of the changing nature of belief. What is the belief system of the modern missionary – the individual who flies out to areas of deprivation and conflict to try to make life better on the ground? In the absence of faith, what drives hope and charity?

We start with Tom and Sophie in their New York apartment. She is giving him an ultimatum: either he refuses an advertising contract working with a company suspected of secret, fatal drugs testing in Uganda, or she leaves. Her dead father Patrick, a Church of England bishop, stands spiritual sentinel at her side. When Tom rejects Sophie’s arguments, the die is cast.

What follows are a number of highly challenging and illuminating debates across the timeline. We meet Patrick alive and well on a Greek island, arguing his case for resigning from the Church because of its anti-gay stance. He is locked in argument with a Ugandan counterpart who suggests different cultures have different needs. Supporting gay rights will encourage a defection to Islam.

Sophie and Tom’s relationship spans continents, continuing long after the relationship is over. She is the future, the way forward. She represents the central theory of the play, which is that the new faith is an amalgam of Christian and capitalist values: global activism as a function of personal fulfilment.

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Tom, meanwhile, grows in wealth but not in his capacity for understanding. It is a parable of our times.

Jamie Lloyd directs this very intense and long drama (three hours including two long intervals) with a lightness of touch, drawing out the rich seam of humour embedded in a provocative and invigorating script. Ian McDiarmid is a natural for the part of Patrick and Hayley Atwell is an intense Sophie. Bronagh Gallagher as housekeeper, Tatyana, is a find.

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