Part-biography of Ann Lee (founder of the Shaker sect), part-impressionistic picture of Shaker communal life, this solo piece is obviously the result of extensive thought and exploration – including a sojourn with the remaining nine members of the community in Maine – but somehow lacks the fervour needed to delineate beliefs founded upon divine ecstasy.
The descent of the Holy Spirit is conveyed firstly by shivering a trestle tabletop on which sit a number of doll's-house chairs (the set is naturally based around the sect's famous furniture), and later through an over-stylised community dance; but the response is intellectual rather than visceral – "Oh, that's clever," rather than "My God, that's what it's like!" Granted, Shakers are rigorously ascetic in lifestyle (no unnecessary talk or touching between the sexes), but their religion is passionate.
A number of striking images – young Ann, describing how she chanced upon a rape victim, unwittingly lets her bowl of porridge spill into her lap; the sect's emigration to America is reflected by drawing aside a drape to reveal an apple-pie farmscape – are let down by a soul-shaped hole at the centre of the performance. Alison Edgar seems unwilling or unable to deliver the necessary commitment to her portrayal; this may develop as the show's year-long tour progresses, but for the moment it remains a tantalising hint of what might be.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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