REVIEW: Morningstar (The Pumphouse)

Review by Camilla Walker

[Dramatic Archangels]

For the next eight nights, The Pumphouse stage is heaven – one year since the creation of Eden. In this first production of Albert Belz’s Morningstar, directed by Romy Hooper, a passionate host of archangels battle it out in a family feud of epic proportions. The gang are all there, though perhaps not quite as we know them – Raphael, Uriel, Gabrielle, Michael and Lucifer play the happy family, until the absence of The Master becomes such a strain that it divides the two elder brothers. The result? A battle for the souls of men, and the dichotomy of what we’ve popularly come to associate with good and evil.

A retelling of a famous Biblical story is both appealing and challenging. Dramatising a very human angle on the archangels’ jealousy of The Master’s preoccupation with Eden, the play introduces a family experiencing individual and collective crisis: why has their Father forsaken them? In His absence, transgressions start to be made. Temptation is one of Morningstar’s strongest themes, as we see the host first of all be tempted by the view of Eden from the Edge of Heaven, and then by visits to the garden itself. Not to mention apples, passionfruit, and the ecstasies of ‘rutting’…

Led by Lucifer’s bold explorations, soon the angels are ‘making like man’, forcing the crisis to a head. A choice is presented: law and order versus chaos and change. A war wages, with Michael representing the upholding of the Master’s word, and Lucifer seeking to test it by embracing the chaos he believes is not only natural, but the Master’s will. As the family splits, complex relationships are revealed between the host themselves, and within each angel’s idea of his or her own relationship to The Master. Mystery governs and moral and theological complexity come into play in an engaging and palatable way.

Morningstar‘s writing, direction and acting alike are to be commended for combining an inherently high, almost poetic style with down-to-earth humour, and presenting celestial characters replete with human foibles. Particularly enjoyable performances are Richie Gryzb’s hapless but well-meaning young Raphael, Stephen Brunton’s commanding presence as Michael, and Bronwyn Turei’s softly strong and melodic Gabrielle. Blair Strang as Lucifer is at turns likably charismatic and unlikably petulant as the role requires, handling his character’s notorious fall from favour with passion, and commitment to his fate. Meanwhile Jacqui Nauman portrays Jophiel’s enjoyment of learning how to manipulate with some exciting moments, and Marwin Silerio is an agile yet fatally tempted Uriel. The supporting Seraphim also offer committed performances and help to build towards the emotional intensity of heaven’s rupture.

Bold choices are made in the production with stage-combat based boxing, and dramatic use of sound. Whilst some aspects of these elements – such as a feel-good surprise moment of disco music – really make the piece, there are occasional times when quick sound transitions detract from atmosphere on stage, and combat overly dominates. It’s a slick show though, stage managed by Chez Marama, and has an eye-catching design. Costumes work well within the world created, as do light, with design being led by character development and emotion.

Morningstar offers an enjoyable, provocative and intriguing retelling of an ancient story, which will no doubt continue to entertain and make its audiences think for the duration of its run and beyond.

Morningstar is presented by Sapphire Theatre Co. and plays at The Pumphouse until 16th June. 

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