Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 2 – May 29, 2022
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Directors: Eamon Flack, Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Maggie Blinco, Rashidi Edward, Marco Chiappi, Emily Goddard, Sandy Greenwood, Sacha Horler, Rebecca Massey, Brandon McClelland, Angeline Penrith
Images by Brett Boardman
It was in the mid-1970s that the Methodist minister Ted Noffs was charged with heresy by his own church. Having gone rogue in his efforts to serve the downtrodden in Sydney, through his founding of the Wayside Chapel in King Cross, Noffs was singled out to be made an undesirable, such is the Christian establishment’s penchant for ostracism and condemnation.
In Alana Valentine’s Wayside Bride, we are provided anecdotes from a wide range of sources, as testification for Noff’s incomparable social work. Replete with fascinating narratives and charming characters (many of whom were marginalised women unable to find other ministers willing to marry them), the play honours Noff along with his wife Margaret, with rigour and reverence. A prominent feature of Wayside Bride is Valentine’s own frustrations with the church, which gives additional dimensions of verve to the show, but which also has a tendency to make things feel somewhat alienating to secular audiences. We are after all, half a century lapsed, and the earnestness in depicting religious inanity, can seem outmoded at a time when Christianity is so resoundingly rejected or moderated, and no longer the dominant influence it had been.
Jointly directed by Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin, the production is a vibrant one, and an appropriately sentimental tribute to people who have contributed a great deal to this city. Its jokes may not always hit their mark, but the people it showcases are consistently endearing.
Michael Hankin’s set design conveys both the spiritedness and the struggles, of those who have encountered Wayside Chapel through the years. Ella Butler’s costumes are rendered with a sense of nostalgic warmth, as well as humour. Lights by Damien Cooper and sound by Alyx Dennison are fairly restrained, but certainly effective in modulating atmosphere for every nuanced shift in tension and mood.
Actor Brandon McClelland is a convincing Ted Noffs, taking us back to a simpler time, when being virtuous seemed much less complicated. Sacha Horler is splendid as Margaret Noffs and also as Janice, playing both roles with exquisite timing and a brilliant imagination. Playwright Valentine is given physical omnipresence on the stage by Emily Goddard who demonstrates beautifully, the veneration that permeates all of Wayside Bride. Highly notable is Marco Chiappi in several memorable roles, each one colourful and engrossing, with a joyful sense of mischief yet always imbued with dignity, for these real-life characters.
It is true, that we should all do good for the world, regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. It is also true, however, that some are simply unable to be good, without the help of religion. Doctrines written by men of faith have inflicted harm, knowingly and unknowingly, on all kinds of people everywhere in every epoch, yet there is no denying the efficacy of religion on those who need it. The Noffs were right, in holding firm to the fundamental belief in love, and in the universality of God’s creations. The mission is always simple, but the distractions are unceasing.