A title as enigmatic as Deus Vult gives little away as to the nature of this play, and none of my expectations even came close. I was intrigued to witness an original piece of student writing, although I’m not afraid to admit I was also a little apprehensive. But to my delight, I was met with a story that was full of heart and honest human emotion.
Credit goes to Adam H. Wells for creating this clever and tightly structured script; it was highly complex, with frequent temporal shifts between past and present. This intricate narrative arc was deftly constructed, maintaining drive and casting a sense of foreboding towards future events. Yet, the drama was tempered by the warmness of Wells’ words – the script was littered with sarcastic witticisms and playful repartee, so that beyond the ominous surface there shone an uplifting sense of hope. The two different yet closely intertwined plots allowed the audience to consider the value of material and emotional worth, and the nature of love, morality and fear – spiralling towards a poignant coda that left me, and many of the other audience members, slightly stunned.
This was clearly a labour of love for Mr Wells, whose direction matched his writing in sincerity and precision. The backstage crew succeeded in creating a simple but effective set which acted as a backdrop for both time periods, rooting both stories in context. This was aided by appropriate costumes, which also provided a means of continuity between past and present. Lighting and sound were used sparingly to subtly heighten tension and build atmosphere – overall this was a raw but greatly effective production, which complemented the plot well.
The playtext was supported by a sterling cast, who grasped the material with verve, giving near-flawless performances. Credit especially goes to Rupert Bradshaw, Laurence Jennings and Ed Gilbert for their nuanced portrayals, toeing the line between mystery and empathy. Lauren Grant and Conrad Cohen also worked well together throughout, making the progression in their relationship believable and authentic.
There were times when the force of the play’s morals felt a little too strong to be credible. Over the historical setting, one could clearly identify the lucid, cynical voice of retrospect, which succeeded in highlighting elements of political stupidity, but sometimes seemed a little blunt. This was characteristic of the writer’s style, so it never felt forced – however some moments seemed too manipulatively emotive. This notion is, of course, purely a matter of personal opinion, and did in no way impede on my overall enjoyment of a highly thought-provoking play.
So, if you get a chance this week, definitely get yourself down to the New Theatre to see this completely fresh piece of student theatre. It will not disappoint!