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Excellent acting fails to lift period piece

The Screwtape Letters, Albany Theatre, Coventry, October 3 only. A play based on a 76-year-old book by CS Lewis which definitely wasn’t for the kids took the audience deep into hell, accompanied by a heavy dose of satire. Screwtape, dressed in an academic’s gown, is a senior figure in the "Lowerarchy" of Hell, tutoring two young "tempters", Wormwood and Shubgob, in how to lure people away from Christianity, so that when they die the devil can have their souls. There’s much talk about Christian belief, and the foibles of human behaviour, told with humour and cynicism. Normal thoughts are reversed – the tempters are told to sit down, tense up and make themselves uncomfortable. But out in the real world they find it harder than they thought to tempt people going about their lives, and falling in love, away from religion. The play was performed by Searchlight Theatre Company, which aims to “produce theatre that challenges people to think about life and faith”, and this is their eighth year of touring this show, which has won awards at the Edinburgh fringe. Searchlight co-founder David Robinson was impressive as Screwtape, his face contorting into evil sniggers as he carries out the devil’s work, then twitching worriedly when things go wrong. Other founder Michael Taylor was also excellent, switching with impressive speed between his role as challenged Wormwood and the unwitting man he is trying to lead astray. The unnamed actress playing Shubgob is very believable as the tempter in training. However the setting hasn’t been updated from when CS Lewis wrote it in Second World War London. The whole idea of the play becomes clear after a short time, after which it feels like a period piece with little else to say.

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