The results were an intense and challenging set of plays. In honesty, this was not my cup of tea. Voltaire’s plays are supposed to stimulate key issues of our times, however being set in the Crusades era and then further back, I didn’t feel that the aspects of religion it presented are that relevant today. Also, mainly the negative parts of religion were presented rather than the positive areas, and in today’s world where tolerance and compassion are being encouraged, some of Voltaire’s work can seem quite inflammatory. Of course that may be why people want to see it in the first place, it is controversial.
The acting was very good. Zaïre, played by Franki Hackett (who was also executive producer) excelled in her role as the slave torn between her lover and her religion. David Harvey, playing the Sultan of Jerusalem (Zaïre) and the General (Mahomet) was a strong actor who emoted well. Krittika Bhattacharjee, playing Zaïre’s confidante, also deserves a mention for her convincing performance, she pulled both plays along nicely.
The entire performance lasted (with an interval) from seven until ten thirty. This was slightly long especially in the cold chapel and whilst Mahomet was paced well, with the right amount of tension and speed, Zaïre was a little slow at times with too much discussion between the Sultan and his confidante - it could have been shorter. I felt that some members of the audience were getting a little restless.
Both plays were tragedies, and there were several suicides, with problems mainly centred around women rather than religion in my view. It felt like Shakespeare with a sprinkle of religion…I know this is potentially offensive to all the Voltaire fans out there but it’s just my opinion!
In conclusion, the acting and direction were faultless, and if you like Voltaire’s work then you would probably like this. Just wear your thermals and take a thermos!