Prophet (Theatre Works) – theatre review

Faith is put under the spotlight in Jodi Gallagher’s immersive new work Prophet. Is it the story of Christianity? There are certainly elements of it in there. I am thinking of Jesus and one of his disciplines in particular. This journey started with Gallagher writing about Jewish mystic Sabbatai Zevi and his prophet, theologian Nathan of Gaza. Mind you, all that remains of the initial concept is a character name and an exploration of belief.

Photos by Darren Gill

The piece features seven performers who wander through a space littered with the fallout from a city in ruins. The devastation of war is apparent. Scaffolding and graffiti reveal broken homes and shattered lives. A humble man (actor Scott Middleton) – who will soon enough fall silent – returns, bringing home a vision of the end of the world. The rest of what I am about to reveal is my interpretation of what I saw, for Prophet does not present a straightforward narrative.

A writer (Gabriel Partington) engages the man in conversation and appears to have an epiphany. Partington quickly becomes a devotee of the man he regards as a visionary. The former becomes increasingly estranged from his wife (Mia Langren) as he sets out to spread Middleton’s life lessons. In the process, Partington is locked up and visited by his concerned father (Dennis Coard), who pleads with him to return to normalcy.

Taking advantage of the situation is a slick saleswoman cum gatekeeper and interrogator (Helen Hopkins), who invariably knows how to twist things in her favour. She is the politician of her day. Partington isn’t Middleton’s only disciple. Carolyn Bock also “sees the light” and is inspired. And then there is the presence of Middleton’s loving mother (Carole Patullo), who recognises her son’s fate.

Prophet is a challenging work, which is very well performed and executed. I greatly admire the creativity that is the hallmark of this production. The set (Sam Diamond is responsible, as he is for costuming), lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) and sound (J. David Franzke) create an atmosphere of trepidation. Much of the focus is on Partington, who brings conviction to his portrayal of a man under Middleton’s spell. Another under the latter’s gaze is Carolyn Bock who generates unbridled enthusiasm as another acolyte.

For his part, Middleton is calm and considered, while Carole Patullo is his doting parent. Self-belief turns to cockiness in Helen Hopkins’ representation of a power player. And there is understandable desperation in the roles filled by Dennis Coard and Mia Langren, as father and wife respectively. What we choose to believe and how we live our lives is undoubtedly shaped and manipulated by others. Prophet highlights the impact of an altered reality. Writer and director Gallagher has given us much food for thought.

I thoroughly enjoy immersive theatre. As far as I am concerned, there is not enough of it around. Prophet excited me because it is decidedly different – fresh and original. It is playing at Theatre Works until 2nd September, 2023.

* I saw a preview performance of the production.

Alex First

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