You have to admire the sheer chutzpah of a writer who creates a play that spans 3,000 years of religious and scientific history and features over 30 characters. The new dramatic comedy from Australian playwright Van Badham - who herself sounds like she could have come straight out of a dodgy sci-fi film - is called The Gabriels and explores such topical issues as IVF, genetics, same-sex baby-making, stem cell research and religious fundamentalism. You might think this is a tall order when you know that the playwright has at her disposal a cast of seven and a small fringe theatre in Earl's Court. And frankly, you'd be right.
The central storyline centres on cult graphic novelist Bonnet (Lois Norman) whose imagination is as fertile as she is - not only have she and her partner Jane created a child through IVF with a gay couple, Jerry and Allen, but she has two children from a previous marriage. A domestic nightmare unfolds when one of her kids, twentysomething Jude, returns home for the Easter weekend with his new, profoundly Christian girlfriend Ginger. Jerry, a science writer for The Independent, begins a long monologue about the representation of scientific research in the media, which prompts Jude to attack genetic experimentation before storming out into the night.
All this would be fine were it not for the fact that this family soap opera is sandwiched between ponderous readings (by torchlight!) from the Old and New Testaments and the Koran, as well as dramatised scenes from Bonnet's imagination. This is a shame as the stylised staging of her graphic novel - set in the future in a regime run by Christian fundamentalists - is well done, considering the limitations of the space.
The play - directed by Helen Eastman - gets plenty of laughs, particularly in the scene when Jude comes out as a Christian to his lesbian mother - "I should never have allowed him to go to Australia," says Bonnet. "He hasn't been the same since he got back." The acting is, for the most part, impressive, especially Lois Norman as Bonnet, Sasha Mitchell as Jane and Anna Steel (Ginger), who I predict is a star in the making. Yet Van Badham needs to learn to cut back on the issues and let her characters do the talking - there is too much here that is strained, especially towards the end. The play may be called The Gabriels, but this is no Angels in America.
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