It seems fitting that reviewing a play about Catholicism should bring about a confession.
Yes, I confess: I did not stay for the entire performance of The Cardinals. I’m sorry, it was just too awful to endure for the full one hour and 40 minutes. (We can only be thankful that the ensemble has cut it down from its original two hours.)
The premise of this show by UK theatre company Stan’s Café is simple. A touring puppet show tells stories from the Bible. But – shock, horror – the puppets have gone walkabout, leaving the three cardinals to take their place.
Why anyone as important as a cardinal, much less three of them, is concerned with Sunday School stories is not explained. Aren’t they supposed to be busy advising the Pope?
The puppet theatre is positioned centre-stage at Flinders Street Baptist Church, allowing the audience to see the off-stage activities. The pushing and shoving, lifting and carrying, the running up and down ladders, is amusing for the first five minutes. After that, we get it, move on.
Similarly, the sight gag of a cardinal playing a puppet telling the story of the sermon on the mount, or whatever, is briefly amusing, but that’s it.
There are only four performers: the three cardinals and the stage-hand, a Muslim woman. Or is she? I presume the cardinals aren’t really cardinals, so is she a Muslim or an actor playing the part of a Muslim? Are we allowed to pretend to be Muslims or is that banned, like white actors “blacking up”? That’s perhaps a more interesting question to ponder than any raised by the play itself.
The Cardinals is a play with one idea, and it’s not a particularly clever one. If I am struck down today, it’s because I left at the birth of Christ.
The Cardinals plays at Flinders Street Baptist Church until March 14.
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