Belvoir St Theatre, April 13


It’s rather like a family photo album: even when the snapshots are fuzzy, the warmth and love are unmistakable. It engenders as strong a sense of community as you’ll see on a stage: not just the community of characters depicted, but a vibrant sense of community among the actors, and then an audience watching events that unfolded just three kilometres away.

Angeline Penrith and Angeline Penrith. Top: Rashidi Edward. All photos: Brett Boardman.

Playwright Alana Valentine interviewed dozens among the 30,000 people married at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross by Ted Noffs, a Methodist minister who presided there from 1964 until 1987. Setting Noffs apart was his pragmatic and tolerant take on Christianity; an openness that made him prepared to wed inter-faith or divorcee couples shunned by other churches (when there were no secular marriage celebrants).

As she’s done before, Valentine stitched her verbatim interviews into an eccentric play that spins around two hubs: Noffs (robustly played by Brandon McClelland) and the questioning, observing playwright (Emily Goddard). Writing herself into the play leads to some of Valentine’s most delightful moments, including a spectacular theatrical coup (that you must see!), and having her on-stage character openly discussed as “a device”.

The main through-line is Noffs’ fight when the Methodist hierarchy charges him with “unfaithfulness to the doctrine of the church”. The stories of those married by Noffs are snippets – some expendable, others are utterly enchanting – fusing into an affectionate portrait of the old Cross.

Emily Goddard. Photos: Brett Boardman.

Standing out in a cast of 10 is Marco Chiappi, playing street-smart Sean talking about the cops’ rampant corruption in the Cross’s heyday, and debonair Michael, whom Noff’s wife (Sasha Horler) grab’s from a gay bar so that the distraught Josephine (Angeline Penrith) can have a father-figure walk her down the aisle.

Neither Chiappi nor McClelland, however, can salvage a scene in which the former, now a Methodist heavyweight, has a theological row with Noffs in which the fury rings hollow, engendering awkward staging – the play otherwise well directed by Hannah Goodwin and Eamon Flack. Similarly Maggie Blinco is heartbreaking as a poetical, mentally-disturbed homeless woman, but can’t rescue a character lengthily recalling breaking her grandmother’s heart by marrying a Vietnamese man.

If only the whole could match its magical parts in this, one half of Belvoir’s first shot at a shared-cast rep season (with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire).

Until May 29.