"A large chunk of comedy depends on our seeing these characters as parodies of well-known religious figures and cultural stereotype"Gaia Reyes

If you suddenly find yourself six months pregnant and you suspect that the child’s father is either God, Satan or your ex-boyfriend, what would you do? Hopefully handle the situation with a boasting independence, like 22-year old dominatrix Mia (Jemma Fendley), who is showing subtle signs of strange panda obsession, does in this new production of Immaculate. Unfortunately, this is not merely a hypothetical situation – for Mia, it is a harsh reality.

Immaculate is an exotic cocktail of theatrical styles, which demands to be savoured, as the story gradually unfolds in front of our intrigued eyes. The bold stylistic choices keep surprising us like blinding lightning flashes. One moment the stage is pervaded by the mysterious masked figures posing as the chorus, a tasteful throwback to Renaissance drama, versifying away as they indulge in their bizarre choreography. The next moment, we witness a heavily pregnant Mia mounting 5-inch heels of her open-toe shoes and startling the archangel Gabriel (Ben Martineau) with her disturbingly ample collection of adult toys.

The carefully arranged set with its atmospheric background elements bravely bears it all throughout the play. Oliver Lansley’s masterful writing and the creative director’s touch of Ania Magliano-Wright and David Phillips demonstrate that a good story often needs little more than a couch in the middle of the stage.

The verse is not the only element that unites Immaculate with Shakespeare – the prevailing point of similarity is the extensive use of impossible-to-miss soliloquies. The majority of the characters rely on the personal contact with the audience to unpack their hearts with words, so we soon recognise great profundity at the core of each individual character. For such an enormous number of soliloquies crammed into one play, the directors did an amazing job of presenting us with a tremendous variety of ways a monologue can be delivered – with or without other characters engaging with each other in the background, spoken like Mia’s or thoughtfully pre-recorded like Rebecca’s (Mollie Semple), momentarily allowing us to enter into her head and investigate what thoughts roam around there.

"The outrageous comedy of Immaculate hardly ever gave us a moment to gasp for breath from all the unstoppable laughter"Gaia Reyes

At times, however, it feels like the heavily used soliloquies are the only way the characters can fully demonstrate their depth. The poignant pouring out of raw emotions which the talented cast members enact with effortless skill sometimes feels lost, as after these moving moments the actors often return to the caricature-like portrayal of their characters. Sometimes also we become too easily distracted by a miming comedic scene happening in the background, heartlessly leaving the vulnerable soliloquiser on the forefront unattended. It is all too easy to miss Satan’s (Louis Elton) tear-jerking confession that he did not fall but was pushed from Heaven when we also try to keep up with Gabriel’s mimed excitement in the background or Rebecca’s revelation of her feelings after her best friend has just unleashed her fury onto her when all the other characters are engaged in a slapstick argument right behind her back.

However, a large chunk of comedy depends on our seeing these characters as parodies of well-known religious figures and cultural stereotypes, and, for the most part, the hysterical fits of laughter that Immaculate is capable of are worth momentarily sacrificing our ability to empathise with the struggles of the characters.

“This play is carved out for those who can truly appreciate witty one-liners, bitter sarcasm, over-the-top slapstick, relentless swearing”

Considering that the outrageous comedy of Immaculate hardly ever gave us a moment to gasp for breath from all the unstoppable laughter, it is impossible to award it a lesser tagline than ‘Absolute Success’ but it is worth cautioning that its comedy might not be for everybody. This play is carved out for those who can truly appreciate witty one-liners, bitter sarcasm, over-the-top slapstick, relentless swearing and even somewhat childish humour (we counted at least three times the infamous dun dun DUN sound was played).

The brilliant combinations of light and sound powerfully enhanced the comedy of the piece. An outstanding example is the moment when Gabriel opens his scroll or transforms tea into wine, as these actions are unavoidably accompanied by blinding angelic light and an abrupt sound of the cherub chorus. The two elements splendidly come together in a disco-tech flashback, which helps momentarily turn her shabby apartment into a bar.

The greatest achievement of this production of Immaculate is its ability to keep us focused on the serious issue at the heart of the play even when it seems buried underneath the thick layer of comedy – and that issue is the baby at the centre of it all and the mother who never consented to its conception but has no choice but to take care of it single-handedly once it emerges into the world. Mia’s daring confidence, with which she faces the unforeseen circumstances, is a quality to look up to – it is this which makes not only her character but also the play itself so memorable

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