Ceremony of the Innocent.
Written and directed by George Franklin with members of the Scrambled Prince Theatre Company. Musical direction by Gabriel Piras. Bakehouse Theatre Mainstage. Eltham High School Senior Drama Students. March 6-11 2017. Adelaide Fringe.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
I am always excited to see well directed, thoroughly committed and thought provoking Ensemble youth theatre from senior high school students. Ceremony of the Innocent is such a production. Inspired by the disastrous Children’s Crusade of the thirteenth century, Ceremony of The Innocent is a morality tale that examines the notion of faith, the phenomenon of fanatical devotion and the nature of power.
The audience enters the theatre to a wailing chorus of Gregorian chant beneath a tattered marquee and echoing through the space like a howling wind of desolation. It is the chant of the innocent subsumed by faith in a higher presence. The lights fade and a narrator introduces the company of players and the chief protagonists in the drama. There is the Harlot( Olivia Smith ), the Priest (McGregor Rose), and the leader of the crusade, Nicholas (Oliver Zagorski). Although any account of the actual crusade may be largely apocryphal, there is evidence to suggest that a young shepherd persuaded people that he had had a visitation from God and was charged to lead the faithful to the Holy Land to convert Muslims to Christianity. It is a prophetic illumination of history’s fateful cycle.
The one hour drama is effectively a moral and religious discourse on the nature of faith. The harlot lives by her means to survive. The priest is beset by human weakness and doubt in his faith and desperately asserting the rational in the face of the irrational consequence of blind faith. Nicholas is possessed by a misguided faith in his own powers and drives his faithful followers towards their doom at the hands of merchants, slave traders and hunger and starvation. Gradually the crusade collapses and the cult leaves its trail of delusion along the path to shattered hope.
Ceremony of The Innocent is a carefully and skillfully constructed ensemble performance. Every actor is immersed in the moment, and although the play focuses primarily on the priest, played with conflicted intensity by a member of the school’s Alumni, the Harlot and the delusionary self-appointed prophet, the entire cast has devoted their talent and their time to create the kind of performance work that should be the ambition of every senior school drama department.
Musical director Gabriel Piras and his student musicians have composed the music and songs, sung with passion and force by the company or by the Harlot. It provides excellent accompaniment from Tuba, trumpet, clarinet and drums, resembling at times a Brechtian orchestra, supplying musical commentary to the action.
Ceremony of the Innocent is an excellent example of Ensemble Theatre and a pertinent commentary on the nature of fanaticism and religious idolatry in a century possessed and obsessed by devotion to misguided, misinterpreted belief. It is a disturbing and confronting expression of the frailty in human nature and a warning to all faiths and all generations.
Scrambled Prince Theatre Company deserves commendation for an interesting, well-performed and instructive dialectic. It is a fine example of the kind of youth theatre that warrants its place in a Fringe Festival..