The Messiah Complex ★★★★★

Bag of Beard explores the issues of faith in a dystopian world

What if faith were banned and you were only permitted to believe in what can be proven? This is the question poised in this compelling, what-if, dystopian story The Messiah Complex, a new play by the always-imaginative Bag of Beard theatre company. 

The narrative switches between the then and the now. In present day, Sethian (Antony Cozens) is being held in a state detention/rehabilitation centre, we are led to believe, simply for the crime of having faith and belief. His only source of interaction is The Nurse (Sasha Clarke), who is his case worker and rehabilitee – given to using mostly torture, sometimes kindness, and mental sanctions, such as preventing Sethian from dreaming, as methods to purge his faith.

All images by Charles Flint Photography

Scenes from the past are cleverly interwoven, as we learn more about the crime which led Sethian to his incarceration in the present. It’s here where we meet Sethian’s girlfriend Sophia (AK Golding) and discover that both were part of The Legion, an underground group of believers/ faith fundamentalists. Led by the unseen shadowy (and potentially cult-like) leader Adam, their goal is to spread sacred knowledge, in the form of religious, philosophical and fantasy books, which were saved from the State’s destruction of libraries (as well as places of worship) and burning of all restricted books.  

Antony Cozens skilfully plays the part of Sethian with a childlike vulnerability. At first, he is introduced as a victim of the State, a man not allowed to express his innate faith. As the story unravels, we learn that he is also a victim of grooming by Sophia and The Legion. Sophia tells him that together they are “two lovers, here to change the world forever” and that he is the chosen one who must make the ultimate (blood) sacrifice. Cozens allows us to witness his inner torment throughout, especially when we see Sethian struggles to enact the sacrifice, which is a particularly harrowing scene.  

As The Nurse, Sasha Clarke is suitably chilling in her quest to rehabilitate Sethian, her frustration with a lack of successes often rising to violence in scenes which are reminiscent of an Orwellian future.

AK Golding is suitably beguiling as Sophia. We believe her love for Sethian and passion for the cause, even if it leads to catastrophe for her boyfriend. 

Considering the play was created, scripted and co-directed by three people, Bag of Beards co-founders Alexander Knott and Ryan Hutton, along with James DemaineThe Messiah Complex remains a cohesive, atmospheric piece of theatre that successfully presents the two extremes of the argument for and against unproven faith within society. The script is thought-provoking, humorous and often poetic, reflecting the type of imaginary text which The Complex would have banned.

The lighting, sound and projection add to the dystopian world, which fits perfect within the theatre space under the arches of The Network Theatre, creating a thoroughly entertaining story

Thought-provoking theatre ★★★★★