Our Church Review – Quietly Powerful Parish Abuse Reckoning

By Arifa Akbar
The Guardian
July 18, 2019

Thorny conversations … Our Church. Photograph: Philip Tull

The #MeToo movement has inspired a number of plays giving voice to the victims of sexual predation. Now comes drama tackling the inner lives of sex offenders themselves, the most prominent of these being Downstate, a Steppenwolf and National Theatre co-production, and David Mamet’s current West End play, Bitter Wheat.

Marietta Kirkbride’s Our Church is far quieter and more English than either of these. It is set in a fictional village that could be the backwaters of Ambridge. Three church committee members eat Hobnobs and discuss parish matters, from dwindling volunteers (“We need fresh blood”) to a diseased pear tree, a renegade cow and a game of croquet for villagers.

It is only when June (Kirsty Cox) nominates a churchgoer called Tom to be part of the group that their conversation becomes charged. Tom is a convicted sex offender who was caught with downloaded images of underage girls. Now elderly, the sustained suspicion towards him in the village is aired by Michael (Robert East, who doubles excellently as Tom) and Anne (Susan Tracy).

Kirkbride’s script is a blend of convincingly naturalistic dialogue with comic edges and thorny conversations tackling the difficulties around rehabilitation and Christian forgiveness, particularly between Tom and Anne, who has her own history of abuse and is played by Tracy with a dialled-down spiky nervousness.

A fine line between potent drama and debating society … Robert East, Kirsty Cox and Susan Tracy. Photograph: Philip Tull

While it does not have the dramatic complexity of Downstate, Nik Partridge’s production captures the awkward reckoning and reconciliation process between abuser and abused. At times, it treads a fine line between potent drama and debating society rhetoric but it never slips into judgment, and Tom’s argument – that he can only do good in society if that society begins to trust him again – is a powerful one.


What is extraordinary is that Our Church is constructed for the small communities it reflects. It has toured 17 village halls and arts centres, and Anna Orton’s set of a church hall has an airy, minimal quality.

There is something very brave about a young writer channelling elderly voices, and Kirkbride does so excellently. It is, in the end, a focused study, perhaps too light on plot, but with a power that lies in its quiet, emotional understatement.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.