Julian Eaves reviews God's Dice, the debut play from David Baddiel now playing at Soho Theatre, London.
30th October 2019
This is a brilliant debut from David Baddiel who – incredibly – has not produced a play before. His mastery of the stage is mature and his handling of complex themes nearly faultless in this fascinating take on the endlessly vexed question of proving the existence of God. James Grieve is a sympathetic and unfussy director, with a clear, straightforward set by Lucy Osborne (who dresses the cast with naturalistic correctness). Ric Mountjoy has more fun with some showy lighting transitions, and Dominic Kennedy's sound design appeals even more to the senses. There are some usefully imaginative videos from Ash J Woodward to open up still further the sensory range of the production (and which show off the camera-loving face of Leila Mimmack to breath-taking advantage).
However, it is in the lucid, credible and light-footed performances of Alan Davies, Mimmack and Alexandra Gilbreath that the show really succeeds. Davies is a gorgeous stage actor, totally at home in the intimate surroundings of this theatre. He makes a good fist of atheist academic, Henry's journey into embracing spirituality, when his god-fearing Christian student, Edie (Mimmack) gets him to start using mathematical equations to confirm the validity of miracles. Meanwhile, his celebrity atheist wife, Virginia (Gilbreath) does her best to keep them apart, somewhat aided and abetted by Henry's colleague, would-be sleazy student predator Tim (Nitin Ganatra). Adam Stawford fills in a couple of other handy parts along the way.
It's a tidy package and one that Baddiel has crafted intelligently and elegantly. The pacing is just right and there is barely a moment when dramatic interest is not sustained (a fleeting moment in the first half when we seem to have wandered off into intellectual discussion with little theatrical purpose in mind can, I think, be forgiven).
The crux of the matter (if you will) lies perhaps more in whether you do or do not take this kind of rather presbyterian quibbling seriously or not. Similar to the religious breast-beating of ‘Light Shining In Buckinghamshire', possibly, this play stands or falls on the audience's willingness to go along with its essential theological premise, that there is an intimate interface between spirituality and the personal. This play absolutely demands that you do accept this if you are to sustain an emotional interest in the characters.
However, if you believe that religion is an essential social construct, created by human beings to rein in their vices and police their egos, saving them from the insanity that feeds off ‘perfect knowledge' and absolute power, then this might all strike you as something of a side-show. Furthermore, since the ultimate direction of the play actually goes in an entirely different direction (one stealthily prepared for by Baddiel, but a tangent, nonetheless), you might end up feeling that you've just been led up the wrong Garden of Eden path altogether.
You pays your money and you takes your choice. As a piece of theatre, it works wonderfully well. As a sort of amusing after dinner intellectual game, it has its merits. As a serious piece of thinking you will either find yourself able to ‘buy' what it has to sell or be left wondering why it never occurred to anyone involved that they were maybe barking up the wrong Jesse's Tree.
Until 19 November 2019 at Soho Theatre