It’s always hard to objectively review art when it strikes such a chord or nerve, but Believers Anonymous is viscerally unnerving and poses more questions than it does answers. I shall do my best to cover the highlights.
Set in a world where religion is a crime and atheism is the only option, persistent religious believers meet for a weekly rehabilitation session with their counsellor, Joanne, in an abandoned church. With a firm hand on the tiller, she borderline forces the believers to follow her twelve-step program to help them become as “free” as she is.
The action takes place solely in this space, where three pale mint green walls add a stark and clinical claustrophobia (set designer Daisy Beattie). Joanne heads the meetings as a conniving matriarch, while at all times believing she is acting in the interest of those she is trying to cure. The believers reluctantly listen to her belittle and demean their values, all in a tone of apparently genuine empathy – with an endless supply of tea and biscuits.
Cordelia Lynn’s script is fast paced and introspective, and it is all the better for it. On paper, it reads almost humorously and playfully, but director Holly Race Roughan has it acted with sinister overtones, making the audience feel as completely unprepared for the next episode as the characters. An outstanding performance is delivered by Keisha Amponsa Banson as Joanne; blending perfectly the helping-hand of someone “saved” from belief with a subtly abrasive nature. “There’s my little infidel,” she says to a Muslim woman before sneering: “just my little joke”. Tamsin Topolski and Alex Forward make similarly excellent turns as two of the six believers.
But Lynn’s London debut opens up a larger discussion – not just about religion itself as oppression, but rather about society as a whole. When we judge those with “different” convictions to the majority, are we actually any better off? By stripping away people’s belief systems – not just spiritual, but personal – do we tear away a foundation of their integrity? And does that discredit our own as well? When we separate our worldview into Believers and Non-Believers, does it ever help either side?
Overall we are left with a perplexing conundrum. Regardless of the beliefs and opinions we have on the “right” thing to have faith in, are we simply better off ignoring these in interpersonal relationships with fellow human beings? Should we just decide we get along with people on the basis they are generous, kind and good, even if we don’t agree on everything? Ultimately it is the divisiveness that destroys both sides of the argument, not belief itself. Believer or Non-Believer, it’s hard not to leave Believers Anonymous unperturbed.
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