Aaron and Julia
Reviewed – 14th September 2021
“there’s plenty of wiggle room for it to be a lot slicker and a lot funnier”
In his programme notes, writer Oliver Myers cites a 2017 online argument between an alt-right youtuber who claimed that Roman Britain was not a diverse society, and Mary Beard who elegantly stepped in to point out that in fact Roman Britain was incredibly diverse, as inspiration for Aaron and Julia. And so it was that he came to write a play about the beginnings of Christianity, made thoroughly modern, full of fun anachronism and witty repartee, and indeed plenty of cultural diversity, directed by Amelia Hursey.
The Name ‘Aaron and Julia’ is a bit of a red herring as there aren’t any parts particularly smaller or larger than any other. Rather, it’s about eight characters of equal importance, varying in cultural, economic and geographical backgrounds, each working to their own agenda and yet somehow finding themselves at the same finish line: the building of a church.
From the get we’re thrown into the deep end, with quick back-and-forths between Afra (Bethany Sharp) the famous Goth courtesan, and Adelfius (Calum Robshaw) a bishop of questionable morals. Whilst they no doubt explain where and who they are, it’s all quite hard to gage without any real set, barring some hanging ivy and a couple of homemade posters behind the audience. This might be fine if they slowed down a little or worked out where to lay the stress so that the audience could understand what information was important and what was merely crosstalk.
On the other hand, the script seems to be largely exposition, only emphasised by the fact the characters do little else but stand around. Without any furniture, there’s very little opportunity for different levels even; for casually sitting down or inspecting something else on stage whilst talking or listening. Instead, everyone’s stood rather unnaturally, facing one another.
The performances themselves are full of nervous enthusiasm. Whilst the script is mostly delivered with gusto, lines are often followed by a look of fear, as though everyone was getting over terrible stage fright. There are also some long pauses where forgotten lines are tensely sought after, and some very hammy turns to the audience to deliver an already over-egged punchline. That being said, the energy and obvious eagerness of the cast suggests that by the weekend they will have smoothed some of this out, perhaps relaxing a little into the story.
This is a really interesting time in history when so much of what we now consider to be set in societal stone was still very much up in the air, for better or worse. The generous heaping of anachronism keeps the story fresh and engaging- Julia, for example, is always on her ‘tablet’, reading old messages from ex-boyfriends. And the sophisticated tyranny of the Roman empire is framed as Monty Python-esque, all with a wink and a whimper.
There’s a strong whiff of the am-dram about this production, but there’s plenty of wiggle room for it to be a lot slicker and a lot funnier. Maybe another week in the rehearsal room and we’ll be on to something.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Matthew Jameson
Aaron and Julia
The Space until 19th September
Reviewed by Miriam this year: