'Perseverance Drive' At The Bush Theatre

A 'terrific play' about the effect of religion on a family, says Penny Flood


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In this terrific play by Robin Soans, religion and all its contradictions come into the spotlight. Although Soans acknowledges that religion can be a source of comfort and peace at difficult times, here he’s more interested in its power for division and destruction. History is littered with religious wars but this is personal, it’s about the effects of on a family.

Kolade Agboke (Zek Gillard) Akiya Henry (Joylene Gillard)

Pic by Richard Davenport

The family in question are the Gillards, father Eli (Leo Winger) and his two sons Nathan (Derek Ezenagu) and Zek (Kolade Agboke). Eli and Nathan are Pentecostalists while Zek has had to form his own breakaway church because he married a divorced woman and was excommunicated, a bone of contention for Eli and Nathan. Being right matters more to these men than the love of God as, bristling with self-righteousness, they squabble over doctrine, peppering the conversation with scriptural quotes as self justification.
They can’t even agree over the way their mother’s soul should ascend into heaven.

It’s intense, thought-provoking, touching and very sad, but it’s also shot through with a wry humour and at times it’s very funny.

Ray Shell (Marvin Clarke) Lloyd Everitt (Errol Clarke)

Pic by Richard Davenport

A third brother, Josh (Lloyd Everitt) has chosen a different path through life, he’s gay and he never calls on God or the church to justify himself. He gets more out of Maya Angelou than the Bible. It seems the only thing the warring family agrees about is condemnation of Josh.
Caught up in this are the two wives, Joylene (Akiya Henry) the divorcee, and the obedient, downtrodden Ruth (Frances Ashman) who gave up a promising career as an artist for the church. Their roles develop in surprising ways as the action moves on.

It opens in Barbados where they’ve come together on the eve of the funeral of Grace, wife of Eli and mother of the three boys. Religious tensions mingle with sibling rivalries and childhood jealousies, by the time the funeral starts tensions are running high.

The funeral is conducted by family friend Marvin Clarke (Ray Shell) a bullying bishop in the Pentecostal Church and his submissive pastor son Errol (Lloyd Everitt). Erroll looks weak but surprisingly he’s the one who triggers an agonising sub-plot.

Picture: Richard Davenport

The second act is set in Leytonstone four years later. There’s a change of pace after the frenetic first half, it’s quieter, gentler and reflective. Eli has deteriorated and is being cared for by Josh, and as the two of them talk we get an understanding of the old man and why thing are the way they are. Tragically, the bigotry and intolerance he encountered when he first came to England are the very things he has instilled in his pious sons, but he can’t see it.
Time hasn’t softened the brothers’ attitudes, they’re still fighting. Christian compassion has by-passed them as the competition over who’s got the biggest congregation seems to matter more than their dying father.

The end, when it comes, is very moving but with a neat twist it’s also very funny.

Perseverance Drive is at the Bush Theatre until the 16th August.
box office 020 8743 5050 or go to online booking.

July 17, 2014