In this little-known 1957 psychological drama, Graham Greene stages a sometimes gripping debate about one of his central preoccupations: the struggle between faith and rationalism. Today, however, the play’s form feels old-fashioned, and Svetlanta Dimcovic’s stodgy production does little to bring the material alive for audiences.
James Callifer (Paul Cawley, in the role originated by John Gielgud in the London preem) is a fiftysomething newspaperman who was emotionally deadened by a mysterious event during his teenage years in his family’s eponymous garden shed. The plot moves methodically towards the revelation of what happened: Lazarus-like, James came back to life after hanging himself when his Catholic priest uncle William (Martin Winbush) promised God his faith in exchange for the young man’s life. In a sophisticated and satisfying paradox, the result was a loss of faith on the part of both William and James’ father, Henry, a famous rationalist intellectual, who rejected his son because James’ very existence challenged his staunchly held atheist views.
The creaky nature of the play’s structure coupled with the Finborough’s tiny size demands some kind of imaginative intervention, but Dimcovic stages everything as straight-up drawing room naturalism. The production’s overall feel is that of amateur drama: rushed line delivery that does not capture shifts of thought and emotion, ill-fitting costumes and obvious wigs. Amongst the cast Wimbush is a lone bright spot as the spiritually bereft, drunken priest.
The Finborough has a growing reputation as a hub for new writing and strong productions of neglected works, but this is not its finest hour.