Pentecost was voted 'Best New Play' in 1995, yet this 20 year old play resonates in 2015, much more than Ophir Productions realised for one of the three main themes of this play is the status of refugees and where they can go.
Another theme, the one we are introduced to first, is the status and the value of art. The church where the painting in question has been found is in Our Country, a country found somewhere in eastern Europe which has recently shaken off its Communist leaders and is struggling to find its new feet. Is the painting really an original masterpiece or a copy? Is an old painting on a church wall more valuable than something from modern culture? What is the English professor's real interest in the painting? Is Gabriella Pecs interested in the painting itself or is she trying to restore Our Country's tattered reputation and redress its insignificance on the European stage?
The recent history of Our Country is told through the uses of the church which has been used as a stable and a torture chamber as well as an Orthodox and a Catholic church. When the Jewish American Leo Katz enters, the treatment of Jews during the Second World War becomes part of the story. Then, just as you think the fate of the mural has been decided, a group of refugees enters the church and the play moves in a completely different direction.
Stories are what dominate the second half of the play. The refugees, one by one, come out of the shadows to tell their or their families' stories from many different parts of the world and how they ended up where they are. This second half is an emotional roller-coaster – some fun and singing and dancing, some harrowing story-telling. Particularly poignant are the words that one refugee has been writing down in order to improve her English – they are all words associated with camps and refugee life.
Some of the play is spoken in Our Country's language (Azeri maybe?) and the way people communicate over and round the language barrier. I cannot comment on how good the pronunciation was, but it sounded convincing to me.
The acting is terrific: Maddy Walker as the feisty Gabriella, Cassian Bilton as the English 'professor' and Calam Lynch as the American art historian are excellent as are the priests and others from the first half. The refugees, some nameless, are nevertheless outstandingly portrayed as a disparate group of people, brought together by a common need; they interacted with each other the whole time, arguing, singing, chatting but also turning on each other when desperate.My only criticism is that there are times when the positioning of the actors makes it hard to see and hear what is going on, but this is rare. Overall this is a great production and I would recommend it thoroughly.