Seeing an ensemble of six actors at the same time in a small space like the Hope Theatre above the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington is rare. But in this tale about Max – who lost his girlfriend Tess in a car crash he and his brother Chris survived – the stage seems never crowded. With Chris we visit Max at the hospital and put together the story leading to his suffering:
For women it might be a relief to discover that young men have their very own getting-ready-rituals before leaving for a night out – at some point I fear passing out by the amount of Lynx in the air. And I did not know each deodorant brand comes with its own macho rhyming either; I found out during a fabulous scene at a club toilet. Actors pretending to be on a night club dancefloor can the audience sometimes feel very passive but here music and light shine as if we are almost inside. The encapsulating use of both sounds and lightening is outstanding all the way though anyhow, especially in those reoccurring, terribly intimidating moments when Max is haunted by the spotlights of the car they clashed with.
Chris was in the car too and it is him who now suffers not only for having driven in an accident which kills his brother’s girlfriend but also witnessing his brother losing sanity – his guilt of surviving is doubled. Max refuses to get more advanced treatment: He seems to know that if he does, he has to face that Tess is dead while he now enjoying her visits, no matter how imaginative these are. But even these are more and more interrupted by further visitors, one referring himself as the Messiah (emphasizing the “mess” in messiah) and the other one someone with darker ideas for Max. Giving guilt, ignorance and forgiveness human shapes without becoming an overly Christian (or anti-Christian) play is a rare achievement, especially given that these characters are born out of Max’s time spent with the hospital bible – this is where Testament stands out most and proves it maturity.
Over the last couple of months plenty has been published (and staged) about toxic masculinity, about expectations and responsibilities of young men and the lack of suitable role models. Max kicks off the play with a monologue about the meaning of “to man up” when “man” is part of the word “human”. That the theatre collects money for the charity CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which promotes awareness of suicide and its prevention – the biggest killer of men in the UK under the age of 45 years – is an important act. Once again I am glad I came to the Hope Theatre and once again that I did not come without cash.
Written by Sam Edmunds for Chalk Line Theatre which he co-founded
**** out of 5 stars
Played until June at The Hope Theatre in Islington